Ex-President Thabo Mbeki has admitted he tried to delay the arrest of police chief Jackie Selebi – but says he did so out of fear that it would end in a “shoot-out” between the police and the Scorpions.
The Cape Times reported this morning the former president has further claimed under oath that he had “grave concerns” that then-prosecuting boss Vusi Pikoli’s refusal to allow him two weeks to prepare the country for Selebi’s arrest would have compromised national security, “plunging the country into turmoil”.
Going under oath for the first time on his controversial decision to suspend Pikoli in late 2007, Mbeki has vehemently denied any suggestion that the government’s so-called “two weeks” complaint against Pikoli – which then President Kgalema Motlanthe used as a basis to fire him – was a “contrived afterthought”.
Recalling the night Pikoli informed him that the Scorpions planned to arrest Selebi, in an affidavit before the Pretoria High Court, Mbeki has admitted he was surprised, and revealed that he had “asked him why, if he wanted to arrest the commissioner and to search his home and offices, he did not approach me for assistance.
“I told him that I would deliver the commissioner to him if he so required, to avoid a potential shoot-out between members of (the Scorpions and police). I needed to ensure that the police leadership was prepared to deal with the arrest of the commissioner.
“I raised the prevailing angerof the members of the South African Police Service and their preparedness to go to jail should it come to that, and expressed my concerns at the prospects of a stand-off.”
Mbeki further attacked Pikoli as having little to no understanding of national security issues, the paper adds, and argued that, had the ex-NPA head had any appreciation for the national interest, “he would not have had this burning desire to execute the warrants (against Selebi) in the manner he contemplated”.
Responding to Pikoli’s legal challenge to his axing, Mbeki repeatedly denied he or his office were informed that the Scorpions planned to seek arrest and search warrants for Selebi prior to the unit’s officials obtaining the warrants. “Had (Pikoli) so informed me, I would not have been reduced to bargaining with (Pikoli) to afford me more time, in the interests of the country,” he said.
Mbeki also now claims he suspended the prosecuting head on the advice of the National Security Council. He, however, maintains that he cannot disclose the nature of his discussions with the council, as they were “a confidential matter of national security”.