Trying Times.

This week Jackie Selebi went on trial for corruption and defeating the ends of justice. Selebi was the Commissioner of the South African Police Service until the beginning of 2008, when he was sent on special leave after being charged. The allegation is that the businessman (who turns out to have certainly been a drug smuggler and probably a murderer) Glenn Agliotti, who was certainly Selebi’s friend, bribed Selebi in order to protect him from police investigations. (There may be other allegations, but Agliotti was the principal witness in the trial.)
It’s bad enough, isn’t it? The top cop in the country is chummy with a man who turned out to be a crook. He publicly declared that he didn’t accept that Agliotti was a crook and stood by the man until he was arrested. He refused to resign even though he was linked with someone who turned out to be, effectively, a gangster. Ouchie. On the other hand, of course, it’s not criminal to be friends with a crook. Lots of other ANC people were friends with Agliotti, although not a lot has been made of this.
Then again, lots and lots of ANC people were friends with Brett Kebble, who was another friend of Agliotti’s. (Agliotti allegedly murdered Kebble, or ordered Kebble’s murder. The Scorpions, before they were disbanded, blackmailed Agliotti into testifying against Selebi in exchange for his not being charged with Kebble’s murder.) Indeed, the Deputy Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula, was previously the President of the ANC Youth League, at the time when it was sponsored by Kebble. And it transpires that Kebble was a crook; not only did he plunder the pension fund, but apparently he knew that Agliotti was a crook, and worked with him, setting up a secret bank account from which bribes could be paid to Selebi. But nobody is saying that the Deputy Minister of Police, having taken money from a known criminal, is therefore unfit to be Deputy Minister of Police. It would seem that there is a double standard operating.
Of course that doesn’t mean that Selebi should be left alone. Better to try someone than nobody, one might say; the others might be tried later. On the other hand, why was Selebi singled out for investigation? Is there a political agenda operating here, or is it just coincidence? Obviously, Selebi’s defense will try to make much of this. But are there grounds?
Well, firstly, we know that someone was out to get Selebi from the moment he was appointed. There was a big fuss about nothing when he got the job, supposed claims that he was unfit, or that he had foolishly said things which the white press didn’t like. He was the first black man to hold the job, which maybe had something to do with it.
Secondly, there was a lot of odd behaviour around his investigation and eventual charging. Selebi was threatened with being charged for more than a year before he was charged. The force investigating him — the Directorate of Special Operations of the Public Prosecutor’s Office — eventually obtained arrest warrants and search warrants in a manner which suggested a publicity stunt. That led to the dismissal of the Public Prosecutor, whose successor then charged Selebi in January 2008. He came to trial in October 2009 — a delay of 21 months. This delay is remarkable, especially considering that Selebi was all in favour of being tried. It was the state which delayed matters, claiming that it was not ready yet — in which case, why did it charge him? What if there had happened to be a vacant court the day after Selebi was arrested — the DSO would have been terribly humiliated if it had taken this huge step for nothing.
As a result, there are grounds for wondering what is going on, and yet there are also grounds for suspecting that Selebi might be guilty. It’s not impossible (of course, the former Commissioner Fivaz may well have been corrupt, too, to judge by his private detective agency’s habit of hiring organised criminals to do their dirty work, but nobody investigated him, possibly because he was white and had powerful connections in the white oligarchy) but how can we be sure?
Undeniably, Agliotti in the witness-box painted a grim picture for Selebi, initially. He claimed that he had bribed Selebi, in exchange for which Selebi had protected him against police investigation over his crimes, particularly his drug smuggling. The bribes sounded substantial; at first he claimed to have paid a million rand, but subsequently it transpired that there was more; according to Agliotti he had been paid a million US dollars, or something like eight or nine million rand at the time, by Brett Kebble to provide access to Selebi. Billy Rautenbach, road haulage entrepreneur and mysterious fugitive from justice (as well as friend to the Zimbabwean government) supposedly paid a fifth as much for similar access. There was reference to a bank account which Agliotti helped to set up and partly controlled which had twenty-eight million rand in it, to be disbursed at Selebi’s request.
All this sounds painfully like the trial of Schabir Shaik, where similar information about bribes and access were revealed relating to the Deputy President and the Minister of Transport and sleazy businessmen around the Shaik family. In other words, it sounds as if Selebi is a terrific crook like Shaik and Zuma and Maharaj (and let’s not forget that Zuma and Maharaj were appointed by Mbeki, who also appointed Selebi — either Mbeki is a really lousy judge of people, a crook himself, or else he had a rather limited pool of honest talent available).
But of course there is the problem that Agliotti is himself a crook, which means that he might not be telling the truth. Also, Agliotti is confessedly under tremendous pressure, having been given the alternative of putting Selebi in jail or spending the rest of his natural life behind bars (in theory — the example of Schabir Shaik shows what cash and connections can do given the corruption in Correctional Services).
Plus, there is also the striking absence of hard evidence. Actual evidence of Agliotti giving Selebi money, and Selebi doing actual favours for Agliotti, seems lacking here. Perhaps it will come later, but it seems odd that the star witness doesn’t make reference to such things. Indeed, the evidence which Agliotti provides suggests that many people wanted to bribe Selebi, but didn’t actually show that people had done so, or that Selebi had done much in return — certainly, if Rautenbach had bribed Selebi, Selebi did signally little in return for the cash. What, precisely, was Kebble bribing Selebi to do for him? Was Selebi investigating Kebble, and if so, what about? Fraudulent prospectuses? Insider trading? Income tax evasion? Or something smellier? (And all these things were precisely what the Scorpions were set up to investigate, of course, but seem not to have done much in respect of until Kebble was shot dead in his car — not that the police investigation was competent, of course.)
The only truly damning indication was that Agliotti said that Selebi had shown him secret documentation about the British government’s monitoring of Agliotti and about the National Intelligence Agency’s espionage on Selebi. That was definitely illegal, and would probably justify the charge of defeating the ends of justice.
And then there came Agliotti’s performance under cross-examination. Rather suddenly he acted as if a victim of the Stockholm Syndrome. Having been a captive of the Scorpions he was abruptly captivated by Selebi’s lawyers. No, he said, Selebi had, as far as he knew, never known that he was a criminal and had always believed that he was an honest businessman, guv’nor. But then in that case where was the corruption? If Selebi didn’t know that Agliotti was a crook then Selebi couldn’t have been corrupted by him. Agliotti abruptly retracted all claims of having actually paid bribes to Selebi (which had been insinuated and hinted at earlier). Then what had he set up that account for? If bribes have been paid to Selebi and there is hard evidence of it (like what the Scorpions had against Zuma) then how could Agliotti possibly withdraw his evidence like that — won’t he later be charged with perjury when the facts come out? Or doesn’t he know?
We shall have to see. Apparently Selebi’s lawyers are going to say that Selebi did not show Agliotti that secret documentation because Selebi did not have the documentation at the time Agliotti claims he was shown it. If Selebi’s lawyers can prove that, it looks very bad for Agliotti; maybe the Public Prosecutor will end up charging him with Kebble’s murder after all. (Although if Agliotti did what he was told, can he be charged? How do plea-bargains work — is the bargain null and void if the case collapses through no direct fault of the bargainer’s?) But also, if Agliotti was lying about that, who told him to lie? Surely it wouldn’t have been his own idea. It must have been something which he was primed to say.
We shall have to wait and see. It is tremendously unpleasant stuff. If Selebi is guilty then it means our boss policeman was a bad guy. But if Selebi is innocent, then it means that the Scorpions have framed him. Why did they do that? Who told them to do that? Certainly not Mbeki, who seems to have done his best to protect Selebi. We shall probably never know; if the case against Selebi collapses there will almost certainly be a huge cover-up and an out-of-court settlement to conceal the people who trumped up the charges. Zuma and his merry men will declare that the fact that charges are trumped up somewhere proves that the charges against them were trumped up, whereas if Selebi turns out to be a crook they will say that this proves that the criminal justice system which tried to charge them could not be trusted; they can’t lose.
Unfortunately, it also seems that we can’t win.

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