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S.Africa inquiry clears officials of arms deal graft: Zuma

A South African judicial inquiry has cleared all government officials of long-standing charges of corruption in a multi-billion dollar arms deal, President Jacob Zuma said Thursday.

The four-year inquiry into one of the biggest political scandals since the end of apartheid, in which Zuma was a central suspect, found that there was no evidence to support widespread allegations of bribery, fraud and corruption, the president said.

Zuma summarised the findings of the commission in a statement in which he said he had received the three-volume report at the end of last year and would now release it to the public.

Critics have long charged that the government-appointed inquiry was toothless and was being used in an attempt to put the issue to rest.

Paul Hoffman, a lawyer representing anti-arms deal activists, likened the inquiry to “a farce”.

The commission suffered a series of controversial resignations of officials involved, including the departure of one of the three original judges.

“The Commission states that the widespread allegations of bribery, corruption and fraud in the arms procurement process, especially in relation to the selection of the preferred bidders and costs, have found no support or corroboration in the evidence,” Zuma’s statement said.

“Government had been of the view that any findings pointing to wrongdoing should be given to law enforcement agencies for further action. There are no such findings and the Commission does not make any recommendations.”

The report comes as a High Court challenge is underway to reinstate more than 700 charges of corruption against Zuma which were dropped in 2009, shortly before he became president.

The charges, which relate to the arms deal signed in 1999 when Zuma was deputy president, were dropped allegedly because of interference in the prosecution case by his political opponents.

Zuma was accused of having accepted bribes from international arms manufacturers to influence the choice of weaponry.

Zuma’s advisor, Schabir Shaik, was jailed for 15 years on related charges in 2005, with the judge saying there was “overwhelming” evidence of a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma.

Shaik was released on medical parole in 1999, the year Zuma became president.