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S. African politician on fraud charge

CAPE TOWN, South Africa -- A senior official in the South African government has been arrested on multi-billion dollar corruption and fraud charges.

Tony Yengeni, the African National Congress (ANC) party's chief whip, is the first high-profile politician to be arrested in the long-running investigation.

He appeared in court on Wednesday to deny the charges of corruption, fraud, perjury and forgery in connection with a massive discount he allegedly received on a luxury car in exchange for influencing an arms deal, according to court documents.

Yengeni, former chairman of Parliament's defence committee, was arrested on Wednesday by the elite Scorpions police unit after he voluntarily surrendered to their custody, Reuters news agency reported.

An arrest warrant had also been issued for Michael Woerfel, an official with European Aeronautic and Defence Space Company (EADS), which was involved in the suspect arms deal.

EADS -- owned by DaimlerChrysler, Aerospatiale Matra of France and Spain's Casa -- won a number of defence contracts in South Africa after the end of apartheid to supply helicopters, submarines and fighter jets.

Fifty allegations

Yengeni and other senior government and defence officials are alleged to have bought luxury cars at massive discounts through EADS.

According to court documents, Yengeni bought a Mercedes-Benz ML320 4x4 at a 48 percent discount from DaimlerChrysler Aerospace -- which was later folded into EADS -- with the intention of using his power to influence the awarding of defence contracts to the company.

Yengeni, who was not asked to plead when he appeared before Cape Town Magistrates Court, had previously denied receiving a discount for the car.

EADS has acknowledged that it did arrange about 30 car deals over the last three years but said it made a profit from the sales.

In a statement released to Reuters news agency the ANC said: "We believe in the principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty (but) should there be any truth in the allegations the ANC will not hesitate to take action."

Three South African state agencies are probing up to 50 allegations of fraud and corruption in the awarding of defence contracts after parliament's public accounts committee found irregularities.


• South African Government

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