Monday, November 27, 2006
S. African Investigation Commissioner, who also heads Interpol, is under suspicion of corruption
South Africa's police chief, his friend the murder suspect, and the crime syndicate
Commissioner, who also heads Interpol, is under suspicion of corruption
Chris McGreal in Johannesburg
Monday November 27, 2006
South Africa's police chief has been accused of protecting criminal interests. He vigorously denies the allegations and accuses a former British military intelligence agent of a smear campaign.
South Africa's national police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, is under investigation after it was revealed that he maintained a close friendship with an organised crime boss recently arrested over the murder of a corrupt mining magnate.
The revelation follows a damning series of accusations against the national police commissioner, who is also president of the international police organisation, Interpol. They include a 144-page dossier submitted to detectives by a former British military intelligence agent who accuses Mr Selebi of "wining and dining the mafia set" and of protecting criminal interests.
South African officials have hinted at a plot by British intelligence against the police chief, but Mr Selebi is also under investigation by the Scorpions, the South African agency that investigates organised crime.
The latest controversy centres on the murder of Brett Kebble, a corrupt South African mining magnate who was shot six times in his Mercedes last year by a team of assassins. The motive is not yet known but Kebble stole millions of pounds from his mining companies and had close ties to criminal syndicates.
On November 16 the Scorpions arrested Glen Agliotti, a man described in police files as the head of a multimillion pound drug syndicate and other organised crime rackets, for allegedly organising the murder. Mr Agliotti not only worked for Kebble but is a longstanding friend of Mr Selebi. They were so close that within minutes of Kebble's death Mr Agliotti called the police commissioner on his mobile phone. Both men say there was nothing sinister about their conversation.
Mr Selebi said Mr Agliotti had driven to the site of the killing while Kebble was still slumped behind the wheel of his car and then called the police commissioner to request an investigation.
Mr Agliotti has been described in court by the Scorpions as one of "the syndicate bosses who tend not to get their hands dirty, but manage their enterprises from a distance".
For months, Mr Selebi denied anything more than a casual acquaintance with the crime boss. But days before Mr Agliotti's arrest, the Johannesburg newspaper the Sunday Times reported that the Scorpions had seized a diary in which Mr Agliotti detailed regular meetings with the police commissioner.
Mr Selebi said his meetings with Mr Agliotti proved nothing.
"Does that mean anyone who has an appointment with him is a criminal?" he said. "I have never been in discussion with him about criminality. I do not know if he is involved ... He would never be involved in any sort of crime in my presence."
But Mr Selebi's claims not to have known that Mr Agliotti was a leading figure in the criminal underworld have met with incredulity since his rackets were the subject of police investigations.
Questions about the handling of the Kebble murder investigation had already been raised after it was revealed that the police handed over the dead man's car to the head of his security firm, Clint Nassif, immediately after the murder and before forensic tests could be done. The car was then cleaned, destroying crucial evidence. Mr Nassif is a close friend of Mr Agliotti and was recently arrested on fraud charges.
The Scorpions have for months quietly pursued an investigation that has included scrutiny of Mr Selebi's alleged ties to underworld figures, and many of the accusations against him would not have been made public if it were not for an embittered former British military intelligence agent, Paul O'Sullivan, who has lived in South Africa for 16 years.
He spent three years gathering the material submitted to the Scorpions this month that he claims is "evidence of a massive criminal syndicate, with tentacles into and out of Selebi's office".
Mr O'Sullivan accuses the police commissioner of "wining and dining the mafia set of Johannesburg", including Mr Agliotti. "That Selebi is a personal friend of the leader of that syndicate, which appears to have trafficked over 1bn rand in three years, says a lot about who he keeps company with," he said.
Mr O'Sullivan said he provided some of the information used by the Scorpions to arrest Mr Agliotti. "This Kebble fellow gets murdered at a time when I happen to be infiltrating the Agliotti mafia empire. I was infiltrating because I wanted to find out the links between this mafia and Selebi and along the way I found out who murdered Kebble and I took it to the Scorpions," he said.
Mr O'Sullivan began his pursuit of the police commissioner because he says Mr Selebi was responsible for his sacking as head of security for South Africa's airports in 2003. The former British spy says that he incurred the police chief's wrath by cancelling the contract of an airport security firm, Khuselani, because it was corruptly awarded and the company was risking the lives of passengers through incompetence.
Mr O'Sullivan claimed he uncovered fraud by the security company but was instructed by Mr Selebi's office and his superiors at the airports company to keep quiet about it. Instead he went to the Scorpions and Khuselani's chief executive was jailed. A few months later, Mr O'Sullivan was sacked. He accuses Mr Selebi of conspiring with airport officials to get rid of him.
South African officials have said that Mr O'Sullivan worked for M16 or MI5, and that he may still do so. The former agent, who was born in Ireland but has taken British and South African citizenship, denies he was ever employed by either organisation but is evasive about his past. He says only that he served in British military intelligence in the 1970s.
"I was in the British military, in military intelligence, but all of that is covered by the Official Secrets Act. You can appreciate my position as an Irish citizen working for the British. Someone might want to put a bullet in me so I don't want to discuss it," he said.
Mr Selebi has vigorously denied the allegations against him and accused Mr O'Sullivan of a "smear campaign". For a while the police commissioner fought back against the accusations, calling a press conference to deny a report in a Johannesburg newspaper that he had accepted a 50,000 rand (about £3,600) bribe from Mr Nassif. "Fifty thousand rand is a small amount for me. I would not be so cheap," he said.
But as further accusations were levelled, including allegations that he indeed did not come so cheap, Mr Selebi went to ground and said he would not respond any more.
Call for inquiry
Tony Leon, leader of the opposition in the South African parliament, has called for Mr Selebi to be suspended and for an official inquiry because of the "thickening cloud of suspicion" over his links to Mr Agliotti. He said that this "tawdry" scandal was eating away at confidence in the criminal justice system at home and abroad because Mr Selebi heads Interpol. "A number of senior police officials are reportedly desperate for Selebi to stand down, given the damage allegations against him are doing to the image of the police," he said.
But the safety and security minister, Charles Nqakula, said he had no plans to take action against Mr Selebi. "It will only be on the basis of concrete evidence that we will be able to do anything ... in the absence of that we are not going to do witch-hunting," he said.
President Thabo Mbeki told a group of religious leaders who expressed concern to trust him to take action if there had been wrongdoing.