South Africa’s Ex-President Mbeki Says Arms Deal Was Above Board

Former South African President Thabo Mbeki said his administration followed due process when it bought new jets, warships, helicopters and submarines in the late 1990s and ensured the nation could afford them.

The government spent 46.7 billion rand ($4.3 billion) on the weapons over a period of 14 years, excluding financing costs, according to the National Treasury. Opposition parties and anti-arms campaigners said some of the money should have gone toward health care and education.

Mbeki testified today before a panel set up by President Jacob Zuma last year to probe corruption allegations related to contracts concluded with companies including ThyssenKrupp AG and BAE Systems Plc. Like ex-Finance Minister Trevor Manuel and former Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota who testified at the hearings, Mbeki denied any knowledge of wrongdoing.

“A decision had been taken, the national defense force needed new equipment,” and the government had to establish how to accomplish this affordably, the former president told the inquiry panel in the capital, Pretoria. “The cabinet in December 1999 said all of these matters have been addressed. The decisions taken by government were compliant with the constitution.”

Parliament unanimously assented to the arms deal and the government couldn’t delay it because of other pressing priorities, he said.

When cross-questioned, Mbeki said he couldn’t recall certain events, meetings, and details of the weapons deal because they happened so long ago.

Zuma’s Adviser

While there have already been several official probes of corruption in the weapons contracts, only two people have been convicted in South Africa on related charges.

In 2003, Tony Yengeni, a former ANC lawmaker, was found guilty of defrauding parliament by failing to disclose a discount on a luxury car from one of the companies bidding for the arms contract. In 2005, Zuma’s then-financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was convicted of trying to solicit a bribe for the politician.

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