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The BBC's Nick Childs
"It is a very highly charged issue"
 real 28k

Monday, 28 May, 2001, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
SA inquiry opens on $6bn arms deal
South African President Thabo Mbeki
The deal has aroused criticism of President Mbeki
Public hearings begin in Pretoria on Monday into a controversial $6bn arms deal.

There have been allegations of fraud and corruption surrounding the deal since it was signed a year and a half ago.

Opinion on these hearings is divided, just as it is over the whole arms deal.

Supporters say the public inquiry is a genuine effort to provide some background and context to the controversial deal.

South-African built Rooivalk CSH2 Armed Attack Helicopter
The government says the military needs modernising
Critics say it will be a whitewash that could undermine and prejudice the three separate criminal investigations which are also underway.

The deal signed in December 1999 involved companies from Germany, Italy, Sweden, Britain, France and South Africa. Amongst the firms supplying weapons are Saab, BAE Systems and Thomson-CSF.

As part of the deal South Africa is supposed to receive inward investment of $13bn in return for South African spending.

The government argues that this investment would create 65,000 jobs in South Africa.

Corruption charge

Since the contract was signed its opponents have accused senior officials of the governing African National Congress of corruption.

One of the allegations has involved the alleged supply of luxury cars to senior officials.

One of those in the spotlight is the ANC's chief whip, Tony Yengeni.

The government of President Thabo Mbeki has been attacked for its handling of the affair and it has been accused of attempting a cover-up.

It has appeared increasingly on the defensive.

Among the claims are that it has ruled out using the country's most effective investigation unit in the probes which have been set up.

Mbeki criticism

The deal has become one of the most highly charged issues facing President Mbeki's administration and has provided ammunition for wider criticism of his leadership.

The ANC has consistently denied the allegations, and while there has been much heat, there has been little actual light shed on the charges.

But as well as the claims of corruption, there has also been growing criticism over the mushrooming cost of the deal.

The government says the armed forces urgently need modernisation, but opponents say the country can't afford it, and the money would be better spent elsewhere.

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See also:

08 Apr 01 | Africa
SA arms deal scandal widens
05 Apr 01 | Africa
SA arms deal under investigation
11 Jan 01 | Africa
ANC begins soul-searching
18 Sep 00 | Africa
SA army 'in racism crisis'
10 Jan 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
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