Reporting from Johannesburg, South Africa — South Africa's former national police chief Jackie Selebi was convicted Friday of corruption in a case that exposed the politicization and organized-crime ties of the highest-ranking security official in the crime-ridden nation.
Selebi, who has close links to the ruling African National Congress and is an ally of former President Thabo Mbeki, was charged with taking payments from Glenn Agliotti, a convicted drug dealer with ties to organized crime.
Agliotti bought Selebi expensive clothes and luxury items, and paid him at least $130,000 in cash and gifts over the years, the court found.
Agliotti, who is due to go on trial for murder in the 2005 death of an ANC financier, was the main state witness against Selebi, although the judge found him unreliable. Agliotti spoke to Selebi by phone on the night that the financier and mining magnate, Brett Kebble, was shot to death in his car.
Agliotti was pleaded not guilty, claiming Kebble's death was an assisted suicide.
Selebi, who once served as president of Interpol, faces up to 15 years behind bars and is due to be sentenced July 14.
In delivering the verdict Friday, High Court Judge Meyer Joffe issued a blistering attack on Selebi's credibility, saying that society depends on the integrity of the police. He said Selebi had lied repeatedly to the court.
"It is never pleasant to make an adverse credibility finding against a witness. It stigmatizes the witness as a liar, a person of low moral fiber. It is a stigma that remains forever. It is so much more unpleasant to make such a finding against the person [formerly] at the head of the South African Police Service," the judge said.
The former police commissioner was acquitted of a charge of defeating the ends of justice. The judge found there was no evidence of an agreement that Agliotti would benefit from the payments to Selebi. But he said Selebi must have known there was no such thing as a free lunch.
The drama surrounding the case underscored the politicization of the police and intelligence agencies as different wings of the ANC struggled for power around 2006 and 2007.
The case against Selebi was mounted by the Scorpions, an organized crime fighting unit that fell afoul of the ANC after treading repeatedly on political toes. Mbeki suspended the head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Vusi Pikoli, after the authority charged Selebi. Mbeki's explanation for the suspension was that Pikoli didn't notify the government in advance.
The investigation of Selebi sparked a bitter turf war between the police and the Scorpions. In January 2008 police arrested Scorpions boss Gerrie Nel and charged him with corruption. The case, however, was thrown out by the Pretoria Magistrates Court.
The Scorpions' undoing was that it pursued top political figures from all factions of the ANC, including charging Mbeki's leadership rival, Jacob Zuma, with corruption and racketeering. The Scorpions unit was disbanded last year, soon after Zuma became president.
The charges against Zuma were dropped by prosecutors shortly before last year's election.