High noon for Selebi

2010-08-02 22:32

Johannesburg - Within less than 24 hours national police commissioner Jackie Selebi could be told that he will sit in jail until he is in his mid seventies, if state prosecutor Gerrie Nel gets his wish.

If his lawyer Jaap Cilliers' argument struck a stronger cord, his public fall from grace as a revered anti-apartheid activist, foreign affairs director general and international ambassador will have been enough punishment.

Or, perhaps a fine of up to R500 000, suggested Cilliers in the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg on Monday.

The evidence presented to court showed Selebi's acceptance of money via drug trafficker Glenn Agliotti could not show he had granted any favours to Agliotti, or that his actions had had any prejudice to the state, he said.

"The fall that the accused already had must have been one of the greatest falls known in our legal history," said Cilliers, as Selebi sat in the dock, with friends and family behind him.

Selebi was financially destroyed, had suffered emotionally, was degraded.

The "mind boggled" as to the extent of his downfall, continued Cilliers of the former Interpol president.

Agliotti had not benefited by his association with Selebi, not even winning a tender for the supply of bullet-proof vests to the police.

He was now only earning a R20 000 monthly pension and had suffered extensively and emotionally.

Cilliers said there was not one South African who did not know what had happened to Selebi.

'Compelling circumstances'

As he spoke a growing crowd stood outside the court, waiting for news of the sentence, with office workers, refugees living at the nearby Central Methodist Church, and lawyers among them.

Cilliers acknowledged the law stipulated a law enforcement officer found guilty of corruption should receive a minimum jail sentence of 15 years, with no time suspended, unless compelling circumstances could be shown.

He also said they understood that corruption, especially by a police officer, was a serious crime.

Earlier, Selebi's former struggle and work colleagues spoke glowingly of him.

Veteran ANC activist Ruth Mompati testified, saying she had come to court because she could not believe what was being written about Selebi.

She had known him since the seventies, when they were in exile to bring down the apartheid government.

Another former ANC colleague, and former deputy foreign affairs minister Aziz Pahad said Selebi had been entrusted with "hundreds of millions" of rands while in the department, and he was "surprised" and "shocked" by the case against him.

"But he is not God and can make a mistake," Pahad said.

His former deputy, Mala Singh, spoke of his commitment to women's empowerment in the police.

Retired KwaZulu-Natal police commissioner Hamilton Ngidi said he would be remembered for his "accountability and commitment" while in the police.

But it was after Cilliers had developed his submission that his actions had caused no prejudice to the state, and that this and his public disgrace formed "compelling circumstances", that should make Judge Meyer Joffe avoid a harsh sentence, that appeared to rile Nel.

Betrayal of trust

Making possibly his last submission in the bitter investigation and trial, Nel said Selebi had "sold his badge" and that an example needed to be made of him.

He had betrayed the trust of the president, the government, the country, and the international policing community through his actions.

He said Selebi had shown Agliotti classified information of a British drugs investigation.

His actions led directly to the Ginwala Commission of Inquiry, which probed fired prosecutions boss Vusi Pikoli's intention to prosecute Selebi.

It had also had ramifications within the National Directorate of Public Prosecutions.

He had also "double dipped" by claiming expenses from both the police and Interpol for the same trips.

Although this was not against Interpol's rules, he had done this while part of an anti-corruption team at Interpol and was making a stand against corruption.

He had spent more than the annual salary of a police constable on clothing at a Sandton shop in one month.

He owned a house worth R3m and had about R200 000 in the bank.

Selebi had shown no remorse "whatsoever" and had lied and fabricated evidence.

15 years 'a light sentence'

Taking all this in, Joffe asked whether sending him to jail until he was in his seventies - which he described as a "sledgehammer" - would not be too harsh.

But Nel argued that Selebi had started benefiting when he 54, and that should be taken into account, even though he was currently in his sixties.

He said courts were tired of showing compassion to officials, and felt that if Joffe were to only sentence him to 15 years, "it would be light".

Regarding his struggle credentials, he said Selebi had brought his current situation upon himself.

"We don't have a fallen angel. Not at all," said Nel.

Joffe said he hoped to have sentence ready by noon on Tuesday.

Selebi was then surrounded by a cordon of the policemen he was once in charge of, got into a waiting green BMW and sped down Pritchard Street.