S.Africa appeals court backs ex-police chief’s graft verdict
South Africa's former police chief and ex-Interpol president Jackie Selebi lost an appeal Friday against his graft conviction in a case that exposed the extent of corruption in the corridors of power.
Selebi now faces 15 years in prison after the Supreme Court of Appeal in the central city of Bloemfontein upheld trial findings that he had accepted bribes from organised crime.
He may still mount a challenge at the Constitutional Court, the country’s highest tribunal.
Selebi was convicted last year of accepting cash and lavish gifts, including from convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti, amounting to more than 1.2 million rand ($148,000 dollars, 110,000 euros) in bribes over a five-year period.
“I am satisfied the state proved the guilt of the appellant,” Judge Kenneth Mthiyane said in a televised verdict.
“On all the evidence contained in 66 volumes amounting to more than 600 pages that we had to wade through in his application for appeal, we are satisfied that the high court was correct in finding that the applicant did receive payment from Agliotti,” Mthiyane said.
All five appeals judges upheld evidence that annotations in Aggliotti’s chequebook referred to Selebi, and that the ex-police commissioner had shown his ally a secret British document on investigations into Aggliotti’s alleged drug-trafficking activities.
Selebi watched the verdict on television in his Pretoria home. He fainted and was admitted hospital after hearing the ruling, his lawyer Wynanda Coetzee told the Sapa news agency.
“He is not doing well,” Coetzee said. “We are very worried… he can’t walk.”
The former top cop is one of the most senior government officials ever convicted of graft, although investigations in other cases have reached all the way to the presidency.
In last year’s conviction, a judge found Selebi had lied and fabricated evidence, in a case that undermined public faith in the police in a nation with one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.
Police remain mired in controversy. President Jacob Zuma last month suspended Selebi’s successor, police chief Bheki Cele over dodgy dealings in 1.7-billion-rand leases for new police headquarters.
The police’s crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli has been charged with murdering a fellow officer in a deadly love triangle.
Zuma’s rise as president in 2009 had raised fears that graft would blossom.
His own corruption case was dropped just weeks before his election, even though his former financial adviser Schabir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison for arranging bribes for Zuma when he was deputy-president.
The charges stemmed from a $5-billion arms deal in 1999 that included the purchase of jets, boats and other weapons from five European firms, including BAE systems and French company Thales.
As president, Zuma is accused of appointing loyalists to key positions to shield himself against new charges.
The Supreme Court of Appeal on Thursday rejected Zuma’s choice for the nation’s lead prosecutor, declaring he was unfit for the job because he had lied during official testimony.
But Zuma has also sacked a minister over the police lease controversy and fired a second minister for taking posh holidays at taxpayer expense — including visiting his girlfriend in a Swiss jail.
Faced with a legal challenge over the closure of the arms deal probe, the president set up a new commission of inquiry in October.
Despite those moves, a proposed information bill has been denounced as an attempt to muzzle investigative journalists and whisteblowers, imposing up to 25 years’ imprisonment for the leaking of top secret documents.