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Selebi trial leaves more questions than answers

By Sam Sole

There is little pleasure in watching Jackie Selebi unravel under cross-examination in the South Gauteng High Court.

The case is too cold for that.

Selebi is far from the swaggering figure he was when he was commissioner of police (General Cele take note) — and he could bank on the president and much of the infrastructure of state security to protect him. Then he dared the Scorpions to come and arrest him.

Well, they did — and now, after a long proxy war to prevent the trial and discredit the prosecution, his heedless arrogance is catching up with him in the lonely battleground of the witness box.

So little pleasure, but there is a sense of vindication for us at the Mail & Guardian.

Judge Meyer Joffe will ultimately decide whether Selebi is guilty or not, but the court has heard more than enough to justify the investigation we launched way back in 2005 — quite independently of the Scorpions, I might add.

But there is also a sense of frustration because the case will leave so many questions unanswered, whichever way it goes.

One is the puzzle of Selebi himself. Clearly he is not a stupid man, yet he retains a blustering kind of naivety that was evident from the start.

It led him to lie to us, needlessly — for instance when he denied he and Glenn Agliotti had been dinner guests of Brett Kebble. And when we sent him written questions ahead of our first story in May 2006, he responded on the fly, verbally, without any sense of caution about what he said.

Perhaps he believed he was untouchable. Perhaps he convinced himself his relationship with Agliotti was innocent.

But more importantly, the Scorpions investigation — and our own — began with a much larger canvas.

Kebble’s murder lifted a corner on what appeared to be a very extensive organised crime network — with tentacles in the police, in customs and revenue, into Joburg’s bouncer gangs and the drug-distribution turf they controlled, into smuggling networks that reached back into apartheid-era covert operations, into seemingly respectable business empires with multimillion-rand cash turnovers …

When he went to court at one point to try to gag the M&G, former Scorpions boss Leonard McCarthy said the investigation was the biggest and most complex the unit had ever undertaken.

Yet very little evidence of that remains in a case that appears to have narrowed to being about Selebi and nothing else.

Was Selebi important to the crime syndicates — or was he little more than a useful idiot, manipulated by his “friends”, like Agliotti, and his colleagues in the murkier realms of crime intelligence, like Paul Stemmet?

And what about Agliotti? How far up the food chain was he really?

Amiable fixer and conman, able to open doors and pass favours? Or a real “landlord” — a serious local underboss to some more illustrious Chinese or Italian capo — who is now set to walk away from making pay-offs to the president of Interpol and is also on course to get away with the murder — sorry, assisted suicide — of Brett Kebble?

Who is the mandrax-smuggling Mrs Chen? How was it that several drug-bust hauls were stolen out of the police pound? What impact did Selebi have on security at OR Tambo airport?

And why hasn’t this trial delivered more answers to those questions?

And if Agliotti is not Mr Big, then who is?

And how do we know the real Mr Big is not quietly circling General Cele as you read this?

Or perhaps all those new badges and epaulets are there to disguise the hooks that are already deeply embedded …


  • amaBhungane are the investigators of the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, a non-profit, public interest initiative to produce better investigative stories and plough back through internships and advocacy. On this blog, amaBhungane -- seasoned and award-winning journalists -- will penetrate the world of smoke and mirrors to bring you the story behind the story.