S.African paper publishes 'sealed' arms deal interview

27th November 2011, Comments 0 comments

A South African newspaper on Sunday printed a sealed arms deal-linked interview with President Jacob Zuma's spokesman at the centre of a police probe into a rival publication.

The City Press republished extracts of a 2003 interview with Mac Maharaj -- which it first illegally printed four years ago -- days after the elite Hawks unit opened an investigation into how the Mail&Guardian obtained a copy of the same transcripts.

"Why now? The details were exposed to millions years ago, rendering the idea of confidentiality moot. Yet the state has now put its top cops on to this enquiry," City Press wrote in a front page comment.

It was never prosecuted for the first confidentiality breach.

Maharaj, Nelson Mandela's former transport minister, had made statements to investigators in 2003 that were at odds with a money trail to foreign bank accounts, the newspaper said.

The spokesman laid charges against the Mail&Guardian after blocking the full publication of an article it said would show he had lied during questioning into kickback claims.

"The publication of the inquiry is in the public interest because it provides some of the answers as to how arms dealers and multinationals began corrupting our institutions, systems and leaders," said City Press.

"Crucially, it also reveals that Maharaj, an architect of freedom and a high-ranking civil servant, may have been less than frank before the inquiry."

Transcripts of Maharaj's questioning during a probe into South Africa's multi-billion rand arms deal are sealed under a law protecting witnesses against self-incrimination in exchange for truthfulness.

The matter comes amid fears for press freedom after the ruling African National Congress passed a state secrets bill, criticised as a threat to free speech, through the National Assembly.

The former Robben Island apartheid prisoner was also named recently by the Sunday Times as having received bribes from French weapons maker Thales.

Maharaj has denied any wrongdoing.

An inquiry into the long-running arms deal saga -- seen as a blemish on South Africa's young democracy -- was recently reopened by Zuma.

© 2011 AFP

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