South Africa’s former police chief was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment after he was convicted of graft and became one of the most senior officials brought to justice for corruption.
Jackie Selebi, a long-standing star in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party and a former president of the international police body Interpol, had been found guilty last month of receiving bribes from a drug kingpin.
Judge Meyer Joffe said in handing down the sentence that corruption was a cancer undermining society and Selebi had embarrassed the court, the police force and South Africa.
“At no stage during the trial did the accused display any indication of remorse. The accused lied and fabricated evidence in an endeavour to escape the consequences of his conduct,” Joffe said.
Selebi remains free on bail on condition that he submits an application for leave to appeal against the sentence within 14 days. Analysts said the conviction of Selebi was a positive development for the country, showing it was ready to tackle its growing corruption problem.
“There is a message going out that says senior politicians are not untouchable and if found guilty of breaking the law, will go to jail,” said Gary van Staden, a political analyst at NKC Independent Economists.
Prosecutors were seeking more than the possible minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. Selebi’s lawyers were seeking a suspended sentence and a fine.
Selebi was a close ally of former President Thabo Mbeki who left office about two years ago. They did not expect his conviction to harm current President Jacob Zuma, who had faced corruption charges but was never convicted.
Selebi’s conviction served notice to members of the Zuma government that they too could be held accountable for graft once the current president leaves office and they lose any political protection he might have offered, analysts said. Last month, Judge Joffe said in his decision that Selebi had received at least 120,000 rand from Glenn Agliotti, a convicted drug trafficker who was one of the main prosecution witnesses.
Joffe had found Selebi not guilty of defeating the ends of justice but said he did not find the former national commissioner of the South African Police Service (SAPS) a credible witness. Prosecutors had contended that Selebi had links to organised crime figures and received about 1.2 million rand to ignore their drug trafficking. The ANC has said the guilty verdict showed no-one was above the law in South Africa.