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Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Trevor Manuel accused of lying and money laundering

from South Africa Sucks

Finance minister lied to court because he knew of corruption, says activist

‘The only conclusion is that ... huge bribes were being paid by the arms deal companies’

Perjury and money-laundering charges are expected to be laid against minister of finance Trevor Manuel this week, relating to a document from South Africa’s notorious arms deal.

The move is the latest in a nine-year battle between arms activist and former banker Terry Crawford-Browne and the country’s finance chief. Crawford-Browne claims Manuel lied to court twice and says he now has the documents to prove it. Crawford-Browne is expected to lay charges at a Cape Town police station this week.

The money-laundering charge relates to Crawford-Browne’s claim that Manuel knew about possible bribes when he signed the loan agreements to finance the arms deal in January 2000. An affidavit filed in court in June this year suggests that Manuel suspected bribes may have been paid.

But Manuel’s lawyer, Liuba Baldjiev, yesterday said the minister denied the allegations, adding: “We don’t have details on either charge yet, and we haven’t been presented with Crawford-Browne’s evidence. So we can’t comment further at this stage.”

Central to Crawford-Browne’s accusation of perjury is the 1999 affordability study drawn up to guide President Thabo Mbeki on the financial and economic risks associated with spending billions of rands on arms.

This document was part of a Sunday Times exposé this month which revealed that the government gambled with the economy and ignored warnings that steel offset projects, worth billions, were likely to fail. The articles led Crawford-Browne to discover that a 51-page document that the High Court ordered Manuel to hand over to him in 2003 was a draft and not the final 57-page report.

On Tuesday Crawford-Browne sent Manuel’s lawyers a letter demanding that the minister:

* Make a public statement that he had withdrawn a defamation case against him and an application for a permanent gagging order; and

* Reimburse him the R5-million plus interest that he has spent since August 1999 fighting to expose arms-deal corruption in the public interest

Manuel was given until 1pm on Friday to comply or criminal charges would be laid this week. On Thursday his lawyers responded, denying the allegations but reserving Manuel’s rights.

In February this year, Manuel sued Crawford-Browne for defamation after the activist claimed that he should be charged with Zuma for corruption. A month later Manuel won an interim gagging order and has since also asked the courts to declare him a vexatious litigant.

Crawford-Browne said significant information had been excluded from the version of the affordability study given to him. “The draft in my possession was already damning. But the version obtained by the Sunday Times is even more scathing,” he said.

“Large chunks regarding warnings of the risks involved are even more explicit than the warnings contained in the draft. “The only logical conclusion to be drawn is that cabinet deliberately ignored the warnings because huge bribes were being paid by the arms-deal companies.”

Crawford-Browne became involved in the arms deal when he represented the Anglican Church at the parliamentary Defence Review during 1996 and 1998. He said Manuel ignored his appeals early in 2000 not to go ahead with the signing of the loan agreements because the deal was mired in controversy.

Crawford-Browne then accused the minister of failing in his constitutional duties. Two years later, he tried to overturn the agreements in court, accusing Manuel of signing them fraudulently. He lost the case in 2004 and was ordered to pay R1-million in costs. It was during this first court battle that Manuel was ordered to hand over arms-deal papers related to the government’s International Offers Negotiating Team and Financial Working Group.

The documents were produced only months later and, according to Crawford-Browne, fell far short of what he was due. When Manuel began litigation for defamation this year, Crawford-Browne filed an urgent application demanding the minister hand over all the documents originally awarded to him. Manuel affirmed he had complied with the 2003 order. This was accepted by court.

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