Sat, 23 Mar 2019

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Officials from the board of cash-strapped state-owned enterprise Denel are worried that behind-the-scenes lobbying and media pressure is pushing it into a deal with Saudi Arabia, without proper procedures being followed, the Mail & Guardian reported.

This comes in the midst of the international outcry over the disappearance and probable murder of Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi regime, Jamal Khashoggi, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul earlier this month.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly one of several bidders vying for a stake in Denel, following government's intention to sell off a piece of the arms manufacturer. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are also reportedly interested in the purchase.

Denel board members told the Mail & Guardian that proper procedures and protocols should be followed during negotiations.

The Saudis are reportedly sending signals through the media that they hope to close the deal by the end of the year, but sources told the Mail & Guardian that bilateral agreements between the two countries - including technical agreements and buy-in from other Denel stakeholders like Treasury and the National Conventional Arms Control Committee (NCACC) - had not been agreed to.

The Mail & Guardian also reported on Friday that a decision by former president Jacob Zuma to meet the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has strained diplomatic relations between the two countries. The Department of International Relations and Cooperation is reportedly unhappy about the meeting. Qatar and Saudi Arabia are at loggerheads.

Questions have reportedly been raised about what Zuma's visit will mean for the potential Saudi/Denel deal, and whether Zuma breached any official protocols by meeting the emir.

Until Wednesday, South Africa had been silent on the probable murder of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Instanbul, Turkey, on October 2. Khashoggi's disappearance sparked an international outcry, as allegations mounted that the Saudi government was behind it.

According to the Daily Maverick on Tuesday, there have been questions about whether South Africa's silence is because of Saudi Arabia's interest in buying Denel.

On Wednesday, the department of international relations issued a statement, "expressing its concern" about "reports" of Khashoggi's disappearance.

"Government welcomes the ongoing diplomatic interaction between the Republic of Turkey and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as the investigation which seeks to get to the bottom of this matter. We trust that this investigation will provide clarity and answers regarding the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi. The South African government shall remain seized with this matter through diplomatic channels," the department said.

On Friday, ABC News reported that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had allegedly heard an audio recording of Khashoggi's murder inside the Saudi consulate. Turkish officials also reportedly believe the Saudis killed Khashoggi, and that he was strangled.

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