JOHANNESBURG – South Africa’s former national police chief has been sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges of corruption this Tuesday. A judge presiding over the case said the controversial Selebi was an embarrassment to the crime-plagued country and the police officers who had served under him.
Jackie Selebi, 60, was convicted in July after several months of testimony about his lavish designer shopping sprees with a convicted drug smuggler.
The case against Selebi, a one-time president of Interpol, has been a chief exhibit in a national debate over whether corruption and political meddling are undermining South Africa’s fight against crime. On Tuesday, Judge Meyer Joffe called Selebi “an embarrassment to all right-thinking citizens in this country.”
The judge cited a past speech by Selebi on law enforcement in which he said that police would stop corruption “so we can fight crime with clean hands.”
“It is inconceivable that in a court the chief of police would be found to be an unreliable witness,” Joffe said, adding that Selebi was “a stranger to the truth.”
During sentencing broadcast live on nationwide television, Selebi showed no emotion. The court freed Selebi on bail Tuesday to file an appeal, and his lawyers said they would do so.
Selebi, once an important official in the governing African National Congress party, had pleaded innocent. He claimed evidence was fabricated for the charge he accepted money and gifts in exchange for meeting a drug smuggler’s business associates and tipping him off to investigations into his crimes.
Selebi argued he was targeted by enemies who wanted to punish him for his criticism of an elite crime-fighting unit. The unit was disbanded in 2008 after it tried to prosecute Jacob Zuma on corruption charges before he went on to become South Africa’s president.
The judge, in delivering the verdict last month, said Selebi’s conspiracy theory had no basis.
Selebi was a former school teacher who in his youth was twice detained without trial for his anti-apartheid activism. He went into exile in Tanzania and later the Soviet Union, where he underwent military training. After apartheid ended in 1994, he was a member of the first all-race parliament, and later served as the envoy to the U.N. in Geneva.