“When a person who is not a decision maker is given a commission, it is not a bribe,” he told the commission sitting in Pretoria.
“This is normal business practice.”
He was responding to questions by Lawyers for Human Rights advocate Anne-Marie de Vos, who represents author Paul Holden and former African National Congress MP Andrew Feinstein.
Mbeki said if an intermediary was given money to influence a decision maker but failed, then that money or commission was not a bribe. Only if the person managed to influence the decision maker was it a bribe.
De Vos said she understood a commission to be a bribe, Mbeki disagreed.
“The mere fact that a commission was paid is not a bribe. A bribe is if a decision maker is bought,” Mbeki said.
He said no one in the inter-ministerial committee or the Cabinet had made decisions about the arms deal in a corrupt way.
“We’ve had to live with these allegations for a decade and a half,” Mbeki said.
He reiterated his call for someone to come forward with evidence.
The commission, which is chaired by judge Willie Seriti, was appointed by President Jacob Zuma three years ago to investigate alleged corruption in the country’s multi billion rand arms procurement deal in 1999.
Mbeki was president of the country at the time and Zuma was his deputy.
Former finance minister Trevor Manuel, former defence minister Mosiuoa Lekota and former public enterprises minister Alec Erwin attended the commission’s hearing on Friday.
Mbeki’s wife Zanele was also present.