The fall from grace of South Africa’s former police chief was complete on Tuesday when Jackie Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in jail for corruption.
A veteran of the struggle against apartheid, who rose to become the president of Interpol, Selebi is now contemplating old age behind bars. However, he remains free on bail of 20,000 rand (US$2,730) pending an appeal application.
Selebi’s case forced South Africa to confront an unpalatable truth: That the man leading the crusade against its crime epidemic was himself a criminal.
The 60-year-old was found guilty last month of receiving bribes to turn a blind eye to drug trafficking, making him one of the most senior officials to be convicted of corruption in the democratic era.
On Tuesday, Selebi looked relaxed as he entered the High Court in Johannesburg, joking with a photographer as he sat in the dock. He was followed by his wife, Anne, brother George and other family members.
Judge Meyer Joffe said Selebi had embarrassed the state, the police force and the court.
“At no stage during the trial did the accused display any indication of remorse,” the judge told a tense and packed courtroom. “The accused lied and fabricated evidence in an endeavor to escape the consequences of his conduct.”
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 added. He described Selebi as “a stranger to the truth.”
“I am satisfied that a sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment is an appropriate sentence in the present matter ... There are no substantial or compelling circumstances which justify the imposition of a lesser sentence,” Joffe said.
Selebi will now seek leave to appeal by trying to persuade Joffe that another court could reach a different verdict. If Joffe disagrees, Selebi could yet petition the Supreme Court. If that fails too, he will have exhausted all options and go to prison.
The sharp-suited Selebi’s conviction has been hailed as evidence of an independent judiciary.
However, some believe it was no coincidence that charges were laid against him during a power struggle which his ally, former South African president Thabo Mbeki, eventually lost to President Jacob Zuma.
Last month, Joffe said Selebi had received at least 120,000 rand from Glenn Agliotti, a convicted drug trafficker who was one of the main prosecution witnesses.
He 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 a credible witness.
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel said Selebi had shown no remorse for his actions. “We don’t have a fallen angel here,” he told the court. “A fallen angel admits when they make a mistake.”