Opinion  :: Columns  :: Jottings from Johannesburg

Time to sweep aside the shadows at the top
Peter van der Merwe
Published: 12-DEC-06

The old Chinese curse of living in interesting times has never been truer for two of South Africa’s most prominent leaders. Former deputy president Jacob Zuma faces the prospect of being dragged back into court on corruption charges, while national police commissioner Jackie Selebi is fighting allegations that he is involved in a shadowy mafia-style crime syndicate involving some of the country’s top policemen.

Zuma has already been acquitted on rape charges earlier this year, and must have thought he was home free when the state halted its case against him on charges relating to the country’s controversial multi-billion dollar arms deal.

That was before the Supreme Court of Appeal upheld the conviction and sentence of his erstwhile financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, on charges of fraud and corruption. Rejecting Shaik’s appeal, the judges said the state had proved the existence of a “sustained corrupt relationship” between Shaik and Zuma, and dismissed Shaik’s claims that the payments he made to Zuma were gifts and loans.

The decision has breathed new life into the state’s case against Zuma, who will now have to face the music. He is accused of benefiting from his allegedly corrupt relationship with Shaik, and being party to Shaik arranging a bribe from French arms company Thales (now Thint). The state will claim that in exchange for a R500 000 ($70 000) payment, Zuma undertook to protect the company from a government investigation into the arms deal.

Selebi, who also happens to be president of Interpol, says he is nothing more than the victim of a slanderous smear campaign by a man with a chip on his shoulder. His accuser, a security consultant by the name of Paul O’Sullivan, says Selebi is the don of the so-called “cop Mafia”, and accepted a R50 000 bribe to turn a blind eye to some of the workings of the syndicate.

If O’Sullivan is merely being vindictive, he certainly is going to a lot of trouble. According to the Sunday Times newspaper, he has compiled a massive dossier, containing affidavits by witnesses and informers, that forms part of a criminal investigation by the crack investigative unit, the Scorpions.

The dossier is said to describe an underworld organisation that is involved in smuggling drugs, cigarettes and cigars, and human trafficking and the trafficking of stolen car parts. It is said to operate almost with impunity, with several police commissioners and directors in the syndicate’s top structures.

Affidavits in the dossier detail a friendship between Selebi, Glen Agliotti, a known figure in the local underworld, and Clint Nassif, the former head of the security company employed by the late mining magnate Brett Kebble. Nassif was arrested on a R500 000 insurance fraud charge last month.

According to the Sunday Times, the dossier describes how top cops tried to thwart the Scorpions investigation through smear campaigns, interception of e-mails and bugging of telephones.

The explosive contents of the dossier have already resulted in two cases before court. Apart from Nassif’s fraud charges, served on him as he was about to skip the country, police made a R250mn ($35mn) hashish bust at a warehouse south of Johannesburg in July. Two months after the drug raid, the Johannesburg High Court granted a search-and-seizure order for a raid on the homes and premises of 17 people, all named in the dossier. They include Agliotti and numerous past and present policemen.

Who’s telling the truth? It’s impossible to say. Selebi may be clean — but suffice to say that at the very least, it is deeply inappropriate for the country’s top policeman to be consorting with people who are thought to have links to the underworld.

One thing is for sure: the government must act decisively to resolve the matter. Both Zuma and Selebi’s guilt or innocence should be established as soon as possible, as transparently as possible. If not, the public’s wavering faith in the rule of law will take a further battering. And that, in the end, will be good for nobody. -Business in Africa Magazine

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