Ex-top Cop's Corruption Trial Rivets South Africans

Ex-top cop's corruption trial rivets South Africans.

Posted: 10/09/2009 02:45 PM EDT

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The corruption trial of South Africa's ex-top cop is opening a window into a shady world of criminal kingpins and alleged graft at the highest levels in law enforcement.

The explosive trial now under way has riveted South Africans with salacious details of double-dealings, friends turning on each other, and shopping sprees in London and Hong Kong.

Jackie Selebi, former Interpol president, has pleaded not guilty to charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice. He claims he is the victim of a conspiracy by the two former bosses of the country's prosecuting authority and accuses them of being crooked.

The trial comes as South Africa's government is promising to crack down on criminals and ensure the country is safe ahead of the 2010 football World Cup, which will see about 500,000 visitors to South Africa.

And many have been disturbed about the extent to which state machinery appears to have been greased in a battle for power over the country's law enforcement agencies.

The state's star witness is Selebi's estranged friend, Glenn Agliotti, a convicted drug smuggler who is accused of murdering mining magnate Brett Kebble. He has pleaded not guilty to the charge and the case is expected to start in February.

Agliotti has testified that he bought the friendship of the country's most senior policeman with expensive designer gifts for him, his wife and mistress. Agliotti claims he paid Selebi more than a 1 million rands (about $135,000) in bribes to be kept abreast of any investigations into his criminal activity, The Times, a Johannesburg-based newspaper reported.

On Wednesday, Agliotti told the Johannesburg High Court that he helped Selebi buy a size 7 pair of shoes for former South African President Thabo Mbeki.

Selebi was a top Mbeki loyalist and the former president was accused of protecting the police commissioner when allegations surfaced.

Agliotti also says he received $1 million from Kebble and some associates to introduce them to Selebi, The Times said. Kebble was a key funder of the ruling African National Congress party.

In addition, Agliotti says he was paid $100,000 by former Hyundai boss and convicted tax dodger Billy Rautenbach, the paper reported. Rautenbach recently returned to South Africa after 10 years dodging capture on fraud charges. He cut a deal with South African prosecutors and is next on the list of witnesses to testify against Selebi.

In his defense, Selebi accuses former National Prosecuting Authority directors Bulelani Ngcuka and Vusi Pikoli of targeting him. He alleges that Ngcuka tried to solicit a bribe from Rautenbach to quash his tax-evasion case.

Selebi also alleges that Pikoli's wife received "material gratification" from Kebble as shares in his mining company.

Agliotti on Tuesday said in court that Rautenbach told him he had information incriminating Ngcuka that Selebi could use.

Pikoli and Ngcuka have denied the charges. Both men lost their jobs in the fallout around the unsuccessful prosecution of current South African President Jacob Zuma, which nearly stymied his chances of becoming the country's leader.

Selebi went on a leave of absence when he was charged in February 2007. His contract was not renewed in July and a successor was named.

The charges against Selebi brought into question the integrity of the police force in a country trying to fight some of the highest crime in the world.

Ray Hartley, editor of The Times, a Johannesburg-based newspaper, has called for a commission of inquiry.

"If Agliotti's testimony is accepted," Hartley writes in his blog, then, "what this suggests is that corruption reached to the highest level and engulfed senior officials in law enforcement and, most likely, elsewhere in the administration.

"I would suggest that government should seriously consider establishing a full-scale national commission on corruption to root this evil out, root and branch. Such a move is needed if government is re-establish its credibility," he writes.

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