Germany Halts Probe into SA Arms Deal
|Reporter||Karyn Maughan, Jeremy Gordin|
The German public prosecutor's office in Düsseldorf this week permanently stopped its investigations into the multibillion rand sale of four corvettes to the South African Navy - a deal for which President Thabo Mbeki and other senior ANC members were alleged to have received massive bribes.
The decision to close the case comes after South Africa failed to provide German authorities with any of the information they requested for the finalisation of their case.
"We needed to find where the money might have gone … and we were unable to do so," Arno Neukirchen of the Düsseldorf public prosecutor's office said yesterday.
He added: "This investigation has been going on for a long time and we did not believe we had a good chance of securing convictions."
Neukirchen has led the prosecuting team investigating whether former employees of the steel and arms manufacturing group, ThyssenKrupp, among others, were guilty of "criminally relevant behaviour" in connection with the Corvette sales in the late 1990s and an intended sale of ships to the Angolan navy.
When the investigation was announced in Der Spiegel magazine in 2006, connections were immediately made with Mbeki, who was alleged to have helped "turn" the tender in Thyssen-Krupp's favour in 1999.
Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille, who in 1999 told Parliament she was in possession of a dossier that implicated senior African National Congress figures in taking bribes to influence the deal, has repeatedly called for an investigation into Mbeki's role in the deal.
In February 2007, Der Spiegel further reported that German prosecutors were in possession of internal memos from ThyssenKrupp detailing meetings in which Chippy Shaik allegedly demanded payment of $3 million to ensure the success of the German bid for the contract to build the four corvettes for South Africa.
Shaik, the brother of former financial adviser to ANC president Jacob Zuma and convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, was the government's head of arms purchases when the contract for the arms package was concluded.
Now it seems that none of the allegations against him or Mbeki could be backed up with evidence.
Although confirming that his office had found evidence of crimes on the part of some former Thyssen-Krupp employees against the company, Neukirchen yesterday said these had nothing to do with the matter of the corvettes.
The prosecutor earlier reportedly described the information sought by the Germans from South African authorities as "essential" to their investigation.
Yesterday, however, he was reluctant to lay any blame for the aborted probe on the failure of South African authorities to hand information over.
"We were not surprised (when the South African Justice Department did not provide the information sought) … the nature of the information was complex and probably difficult to gather," he said.
He was quick to point out that his office had also not received any assistance from Switzerland or Spain. They had also been asked to provide information concerning the arms deal investigation.
Neukirchen confirmed that German prosecutors had immediately responded when Justice director-general Menzi Simelane had asked his office for "further particulars" in regards to the Germans' 2007 information request - which the South African government earlier claimed the Germans had failed to do.
"Of course we did," he said, "what else could we do?"
Chippy Shaik yesterday commented: "I've always said there was no problem. That's great news. Let's hope this brings some closure to all these matters."
Presidential spokesman Mukoni Ratshitanga yesterday responded to requests for comment on the aborted German investigation by pointing out that Mbeki had earlier called on anyone with evidence against him to come forward. He did not comment further.
Yesterday, ThyssenKrupp said it had "supported the investigations of the Düsseldorf public prosecutor's office and carried out its own investigations into the matter, which found no evidence of criminally relevant behaviour by employees or former employees".
"Criminally relevant behaviour, in particular acts of bribery, were not established by the public prosecutor's office."
With acknowledgements to Karyn Maughan, Jeremy Gordin and Cape Times.