Selebi fiasco

2008-01-15 00:00

Last week National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi brought an urgent application before the Pretoria High Court asking it to prevent the National Prosecuting Authority from proceeding against him. His application received short shrift. The judge declared that it bore no merit and that the administration of justice would be brought into disrepute if Selebi were not prosecuted.

This misjudged pre-emptive strike on Selebi’s part has brought matters to a head. Within days he was on an extended leave of absence and had resigned as head of Interpol. And the court papers have revealed the extent of the charges against him.

While at this stage they remain allegations, their nature and extent must fill all South Africans with a sense of deep disappointment in the country’s top policeman — a man who had previously served as the Foreign Affairs director-general after representing South Africa at the United Nations for three years. Given the need to rehabilitate the image of the police after the apartheid past when the force was used as a repressive agent to maintain white dominance, the man at the top should have been an individual of the utmost integrity and discretion. Yet the charges suggest, at the very best, astonishingly poor judgment on the part of Selebi; at worst they tell of profound corruption.

How can the country’s top policeman accept at least R1,2 million over a period of 18 months from so dubious a character as Glenn Agliotti, known as “the landlord”, reputedly a syndicate boss linked to an international drug-smuggling ring? How can he ask Agliotti for R30 000 so that he could host a dinner in France to impress and lobby Interpol delegates to make him head of that organisation? How can he say that he was not in regular contact with Agliotti when his cellphone records show 223 calls made to Agliotti from his official cellphone, and Agliotti’s records show 62 calls to Selebi over a six-month period in 2006?

But there is a further dimension to recent Selebi developments. Selebi was appointed by President Thabo Mbeki in 2000 to succeed George Fivaz. When allegations against him first surfaced, Mbeki was visited by a concerned delegation of all the top religious leaders in the land. Mbeki’s response was to fob the clerics off, telling them to “trust me”. They did — and their trust would seem to have been sadly misplaced.

Last year the head of the NPA, Vusi Pikoli, was suspended by Mbeki, reportedly because he was about to serve a warrant of arrest on Selebi. Now Mbeki declares that he had not known of any wrongdoing by Selebi until “a few days ago”. What about the religious leaders? What about Pikoli? Surely the president has been culpably passive? Indeed, does such inaction not cast doubt on his own integrity?

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