Friday, December 2, 2011

Ex-Police Chief Loses Appeal of Conviction in South Africa

Ex-Police Chief Loses Appeal of Conviction in South Africa
Published: December 2, 2011

JOHANNESBURG — An appeals court on Friday upheld the corruption conviction and 15-year sentence against South Africa’s former national police commissioner, making him the most senior public official forced to serve jail time since this country became a democracy 17 years ago.

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Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
South Africa's former national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, center, appearing at the Johannesburg high court on charges of corruption on April 14, 2009.

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The former commissioner, Jackie Selebi, 61, collapsed at his home upon hearing the news and had to be taken to a hospital, his lawyer told the local news media. Mr. Selebi, who has been free on bail pending the appeal, will have until Sunday to report to jail.

“He is not doing well,” Wynanda Coetzee, his lawyer, told reporters. “We are very worried. He can’t walk.”

A judge last year convicted Mr. Selebi of providing favors to a drug trafficker in exchange for tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts that included designer clothing. When he handed down the conviction, Judge Meyer Joffe called Mr. Selebi, the police commissioner from 2000 through 2008, someone of “low moral fiber” who showed “complete contempt for the truth.”

A five-judge panel of the Supreme Court of Appeal said that prosecutors had proven two crucial elements beyond a reasonable doubt: that Mr. Selebi took money from the drug trafficker, Glenn Agliotti, and that he provided a benefit in return. Mr. Selebi tipped Mr. Agliotti to secret information, including that the British police were investigating him, the initial trial judge had found.

“The high court was correct in finding that the applicant did receive payment from Agliotti and that he did provide quid pro quo,” Judge Kenneth Mthiyane, one of the appeals judges, said at the courthouse in Bloemfontein.

It is unlikely that Mr. Selebi will be able to appeal this decision. It marks the bottom of a precipitous fall for a man who once was the president of Interpol. Mr. Selebi emerged from the apartheid era as one of South Africa’s liberation heroes and a leader of the governing party, the African National Congress. He was a member of Parliament and an envoy to the United Nations in Geneva.

“Given that this is a new democracy, given our history, it’s not realistic to expect that we’re not going to have corruption,” said Steven Friedman, director of The Center for the Study of Democracy in South Africa and a professor at Rhodes University in South Africa.

Mr. Friedman called the case against Mr. Selebi “a very important step forward” because there were “a lot of societies where the police commissioner would not be prosecuted” if he faced evidence of corruption. He said that Mr. Selebi was the highest-ranking official to be jailed for corruption since the beginning of democracy here.

During his eight-month trial, Mr. Selebi vigorously claimed his innocence and said he was being set up by enemies unhappy that he had criticized an investigative police unit that was eventually disbanded. Mr. Agliotti was the prosecution’s chief witness against him, though the trial judge found that Mr. Agliotti had lied about many things.

Mr. Selebi testified in his own defense, saying that his relationship with Mr. Agliotti was an effort to siphon information “from him for the greater good.”

But the judge at the trial also found that Mr. Selebi had lied on numerous points.

Mr. Selebi was a close ally of the man who appointed him, the former president Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Mbeki tried to stop the prosecution of Mr. Selebi, going so far as to suspend the former national prosecutor who had been investigating the police commissioner.

Another justice official at the time, Menzi Simelane, had written a letter to the prosecutor asking him to abandon the case against Mr. Selebi. Mr. Simelane would eventually become the nation’s top prosecutor, but the appeals court ruled Thursday that his appointment was invalid because of questions surrounding his experience and integrity.

Corruption has been a problem long plaguing this young democracy, and it seems that Mr. Selebi’s example has not served as much of a deterrent. Mr. Selebi’s successor, Bheki Cele, is on suspension over allegations that he leased a new police headquarters at inflated prices.

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