South African President Jacob Zuma said there are no legal means to prosecute traders for paying bribes to win Iraqi oil contracts under the United Nations’ oil- for-food program that operated before 2003, according to a report from Bloomberg.
Zuma closed an investigation into trader Sandile Majali, citing loopholes in local laws. Majali was named in a UN probe that found 2,253 companies paid illegal kickbacks to Iraq to win business from the program designed to enable Saddam Hussein’s government to sell oil to pay for humanitarian aid.
Zuma said in reply to a parliamentary question that he would not extend the lifespan of the Donen Commission, which probed the role of South African companies in the so-called Oilgate scandal, nor would he release its findings.
“Whether it is proven that the South African nationals did pay the surcharges to the Iraqi government, I have been advised that in terms of our domestic law these nationals cannot be prosecuted,” said Zuma.
Majali, who traded oil through his companies Montega Trading and Imvume Management Ltd., denies having paid bribes to win contracts and says the ruling African National Congress “promoted” his business activities in Iraq. He has described himself as an adviser to former President Thabo Mbeki
The ANC used Imvume as a front company to try and profit itself from oil trading, the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian reported in July, 2005, citing documents signed by the party and the company. The party agreed to lobby against sanctions imposed against Hussein’s government, in exchange for the oil allocations, the newspaper said.
The Foreign Ministry has rejected allegations that its policy was compromised by contracts in the oil-for-food program.
Zuma said today that he has asked Justice Minister Jeff Radebe to “consider passing the relevant legislation and/or amend existing legislation to rectify any shortcomings in our domestic law.”
The Democratic Alliance, the country’s main opposition party, said it would use every available mechanism at its disposal to challenge Zuma’s decision.
“Despite regular protestation that his government is tough on corruption, the president’s handling of this matter is indicative of the ANC’s attitude towards executive misconduct,” Athol Trollip, the party’s parliamentary leader said in an e- mailed statement. “The decision not to further investigate the oil-for-food scandal has been made in the interests of the ANC.”
(Sources: Bloomberg, Independent Online)