S.African arms deal case dropped, clearing way for inquiry

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A high-profile lawsuit tied to a $5-billion South African arms deal was withdrawn Thursday, removing a legal hurdle to a new inquiry ordered by President Jacob Zuma.

Anti-graft campaigner Terry Crawford-Browne, who has sought for the last decade to reverse the military contracts, had filed the case seeking to force Zuma to re-open an investigation that had reached into the top levels of South African politics.

Three weeks before the Constitutional Court hearing Thursday, Zuma announced a new commission of inquiry led by three top judges.

Crawford-Browne's decision to withdraw the case removes any question that the court could review Zuma's decision, clearing the way for the new investigation to proceed.

"The applicant is granted leave to withdraw," Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng said, ordering Zuma to pay costs for the trial.

Defence attorney Hamilton Maenetje told the nine judges of country's top court that the parties had "resolved the matter".

The arms purchase has been clouded by allegations of bribery to senior government officials and blemished South Africa's young democracy.

The deal included 12 trainer Hawk jets and naval patrol boats from five European groups, including BAE systems and French arms firm Thales, which was then known as Thomson-CSF.

Swedish group Saab admitted in June that 24 million rand ($3.6 million, 2.5 million euros) in bribes had been paid to secure the South African contract, but blamed its former British partner BAE Systems for making the payoffs.

Last month, the justice minister said the new commission would have the power to subpoena witnesses including Zuma, recommend legal action against individuals involved and even cancel contracts.

© 2011 AFP

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