/ 28 September 2007

Swift action demanded on Selebi, Pikoli

Opposition parties on Friday called for a commission of inquiry to investigate police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi and for President Thabo Mbeki to state categorically whether a warrant was issued for Selebi’s arrest.

Mbeki cannot himself decide about Selebi, as Mbeki’s ”credibility is under suspicion because it appears as if he has favourites whom he protects”, Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald said. Therefore, a judicial commission of inquiry should be appointed to investigate Selebi.

In a letter to Mbeki, Groenewald said various allegations are being levelled against Selebi. There are reports of a dossier with the Scorpions implying that Selebi could be involved with a crime syndicate.

”Because other members of the SAPS [South African Police Service] could be possible witnesses and [because of] the tension which currently exists between Commissioner Selebi and the Scorpions, you are requested to appoint an independent judicial commission of inquiry. It is in the national interest to disprove or confirm these allegations,” Groenewald wrote.

Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille urged Mbeki to say whether a warrant was issued for Selebi’s arrest.

Reports that the National Prosecuting Authority had obtained such a warrant put Mbeki’s suspension of National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Vusi Pikoli, on Monday this week, ”in a disturbing new light”, she said in her weekly online newsletter.

Earlier, the Cape Times quoted ”well-placed sources” as saying the Scorpions, the investigative unit that reports directly to Pikoli, had plans for at least three months to arrest Selebi, but backed off after ”intervention” by top government officials, and that Pikoli ”had obtained a warrant of arrest against Selebi a week ago”.

Newspapers including the Sowetan, the Cape Times, the Star, Beeld and Die Burger all cited sources as confirming Pikoli was suspended after Mbeki heard that the Scorpions had obtained the warrant last week.

The Mail & Guardian reported that Pikoli’s failure to give his political superiors full details of the investigation into Selebi — and possibly of Selebi’s planned arrest — led to his suspension, according to a range of official sources.

The M&G first revealed Selebi’s links to organised crime figures, and the Scorpions’ investigation into these links, in May last year.

Zille said the seriousness of the situation should not be underestimated.

”We are entering a phase in our democracy where the most serious questions, with profound constitutional implications, are being asked about the conduct of the president and the national police commissioner. The president needs to take the nation into his confidence.”

The latest reports need to be either confirmed or emphatically denied as a matter of great urgency, she said.

‘Clean the slate’

Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) spokesperson Velaphi Ndlovu agreed the time had come for ”the slate to be cleaned at the highest level”.

”The country has the right to know the true facts. It is untenable to have a commissioner of police and a director of national prosecutions under such a dark cloud.

”The IFP in the public interest therefore puts an extremely serious question to President Mbeki, namely: Has a warrant of arrest, or any warrant, at any stage, been applied for against Mr Selebi?”

Civil rights initiative AfriForum asked Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana to investigate Pikoli’s suspension. AfriForum CEO Kallie Kriel said Mbeki’s suspension of Pikoli would amount to improper conduct if the suspension was motivated by something having no bearing on the efficiency with which the NPA executed its duties.

”In any effectively functioning constitutional state, it is expected of the NPA to investigate all allegations about criminal activities as thoroughly as possible, especially if such allegations were to be made against a chief of police.

”If the warrant for the arrest of Selebi indeed played a role in Pikoli’s suspension, it would be a severe blow for the concept of a constitutional state, as defined in the South African Constitution,” Kriel said.

Warrant mystery

Meanwhile, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula said he was ”taken aback” by reports that a warrant of arrest had been issued for Selebi. He told reporters on Friday he was still to briefed on the matter by Mbeki.

Nqakula said if the news reports about the warrant were true, it was ”highly regrettable” that he had not been informed of the matter.

The Pretoria High Court knew nothing on Friday about any warrants issued for the arrest of Selebi.

”It’s a mystery. Nobody knows anything,” said Ilonka Etsebeth, personal assistant to Judge President Bernard Ngoepe. She said she had spoken to all of the judges at the Pretoria High Court who were on duty over the period the warrants were said to have been filed, and they knew ”nothing, nothing, nothing”.

According to media reports, a warrant of arrest for Selebi was issued by recently suspended National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli last Thursday. This was reportedly accompanied by a search-and-seizure document obtained from the Pretoria High Court.