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Arms-to-Russia inquiry: what has the South African investigation revealed

A view of the Russian vessel, Lady R, is docked at the Simon's Town Naval Base near Cape Town, South Africa, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2022.   -  
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South Africa

A South African independent panel "found no evidence to substantiate" claims by the US amabssador to the country that Pretoria had supplied arms to Russia last year.

"Available evidence only confirmed the offloading and that there was nothing loaded," an inquiry into the incident that caused diplomatic tensions between South Africa and the U.S has revealed.

An executive summary of the panel’s report was released Tuesday night following president Cyril Ramaphosa's address on Sunday.

In a press conference last May, US ambassador Reuben Brigety, claimed that South Africa had provided weapons to Russia through the US-sanctioned ship Lady R, which docked at the Simon's Town naval base, in Cape Town, in December 2022.

In the aftermath, the country's Rand crashed quickly and the opposition questioned the president in Parliament.

President Ramaphosa made the summary public but has said the full report would remain classified.

The executive summery can be found here.

The panel's findings elicited calls from several quarters, including the ANC-aligned South African Communist Party, for the ambassador to be expelled.

What did the panel establish? Here is all you need to know

**Equipment for the national defense forces-**The Panel established that the goods that were delivered by the Lady R ship were equipment for the South African National Defense Forces (SANDF), had been ordered by Armscor (Armaments Corporation of South Africa SOC Ltd) and waited for since 2018. Its manufacturing, packaging and late delivery was in part to be blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine.

**Why was the U.S sanctioned ship used for the delivery?-**The equipment was ordered from a company based in the United Arab Emirates. Neither the SANDF, Armscor or AB Logistics (the division of Armscor responsible for providing logistic freight and travel services to Armscorand the SANDF) had chosen the Lady R as a vehicle for delivery, nor did they have control over the process, in terms of the relevant contractual arrangements. South Africa in fact had no control over the selection of the vessel.

**Why was the Simon's Town base chosen?-**According to the inquiry report, the Russian ship was redirected to the Simon’s Town naval base after shipping agents at the Ngqura-Port Elizabeth port, where it intended to dock, refused to service the ship due to the U.S. sanctions. Only then, the summary says, the SANDF, in collaboration with Armscor and the supplier decided and directed the ship to dock at Simonstown, where the goods/equipment were offloaded.

**When was the order delivered?-**As part of the standard practice in relation to this kind of equipment (specifically in relation to its intended use), the goods were offloaded at night, under cover of darkness. This was during the nights of 7-8 and 8-9 December 2022.

What type of equipment was offloaded?- The details of the equipment offloaded and its intended use were madeknown to the Panel. In light of this classified information, the Panelaccepted the reasons provided for the decision to offload the equipmentat night. This as well as the nature and purpose of the equipment areaspects which may need to be considered when the President decideswhat may be published.

How did the unloading go?-*The Panel found that the equipment had not been properly containerised – it was packed in pallets. As a result, containers were brought to the port, empty, by trucks, and the pallets were loaded into the containers on the dock, after which the containers were then loaded on the trucks. On the early morning of 8 December 2022, there were pallets that remained on the quay, with insufficient time to containerise them before dawn broke. These pallets were returned to the ship, awaiting nightfall on 8 December 2022 to be offloaded again and loaded into containers. This was done because leaving the pallets on the quay / dockside during daylight was asecurity risk; furthermore, the nature of the equipment would be visible to anyone with sight of the dock.

****Were weapons and amunitions loaded as U.S. ambassador claimed?-**Despite some rumours that some equipment or arms were loaded on the Lady R, the Panel found no evidence to substantiate those claims. Available evidence only confirmed the offloading and that there wasnothing loaded.

Who did the panel interview?- The panel invited and interviewed 47 people under oathor affirmation, received 23 written submissions, containing over 100documents, and attended the inspection of the scene at Simonstown. A number of other entities and persons that had publicly claimed to have information on this matter, after being invited to make submissions to thePanel, either failed to do so or provided no independent knowledge of therelevant facts.

The independent panel of three members conducted the investigation. It was chaired by Judge PMD Mojapelo.

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