Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Former ANC lawmaker's `preferential treatment' sparks fury in South Africa

AP , JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

A former leading African National Congress lawmaker was released from prison on Monday after serving just four months of an original five-year sentence for corruption, fanning criticism he had received preferential treatment.

Tony Yengeni, who was the former chief whip for the governing ANC, was convicted in 2003 of fraud for accepting a discounted Mercedes-Benz car from the head of Daimler-Benz Aerospace as part of a much-criticized arms deal.

Yengeni was released from the Malmesbury prison on the Cape west coast under strict parole conditions that effectively place him under house arrest until 2008.

He was unrepentant as he emerged from the prison on Monday morning to be greeted by small crowd of supporters who included a number of parliamentarians and party officials.

"It is a great day for me and my family and for the movement in that I'm now walking out of the gate of this prison, a place that I was not supposed to be in the first place," Yengeni said, the South African Press Association reported.

On Sunday, Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour visited Yengeni to read him the "riot act to ensure he is fully informed of the rules and obligations of placement under correctional supervision," a prisons department statement said.

Yengeni will need permission to leave his house and will also have to do 16 hours of community service a month.

From the beginning, the conditions of Yengeni's incarceration had sparked criticism it showed the government was soft on corruption.

He received a rousing send-off when he reported to Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town in August, accompanied by top political leaders, members of parliament and ministers.

Within a day he was transferred to a hospital cell in the more comfortable Malmesbury prison.

Yengeni then was caught drinking and reported late back to prison, breaking conditions for weekend parole. He was also allowed to have a Christmas party with family and friends at the prison.

Yengeni and prison authorities have denied that he received preferential treatment.

Yengeni qualified for his sentence to be reduced by 28 months under a presidential pardon granted to certain nonviolent offenders. Luphumzo Kebeni, spokesman for minister Balfour, said Yengeni was released in line with department's regulations allowing parole after a prisoner has served a third of his or her sentence.

The Inkatha Freedom Party's Sybil Seaton said on Monday his release after just under five months was "a national disgrace."

James Selfe, from the Democratic Alliance, said Yengeni's release was a case of justice not been served.

"The ANC has set an appalling example throughout this saga, which can only serve to deal a severe blow to the fight against corruption," Selfe said. "Apart from sending the message that if you are a well connected ANC member you can get away with criminal activities, the Yengeni saga has totally undermined the aim of the Department of Correctional Services to rehabilitate prisoners."

In a statement on Yengeni's release the ANC said the party had taken disciplinary action against him in June 2003, when he pleaded guilty to charges of violating the party constitution, and his membership was suspended for five years. But the punishment was suspended, meaning it would only be enacted if Yengeni transgresses again.

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