/ 5 October 2009

Surprises in store at Selebi trial

Get set for surprises as the Selebi trial gets under way on Monday in the South Gauteng High Court.

The corruption and defeating the ends of justice case against former police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi has been strengthened by the surprise inclusion of a new witness: returned fugitive Billy Rautenbach.

Rautenbach, who had been wanted on fraud charges since he skipped the country in 1999 recently cut a deal with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). His company last month agreed to pay a R40-million fine to settle the case: now he is expected to testify about his attempt to sort out his legal problems earlier by buying off Selebi.

He is expected to tell the court about his approach to the prosecution’s lynchpin witness Glenn Agliotti in order to facilitate the alleged bribing of the former police National Commissioner.

Former NPA boss Vusi Pikoli, who is also on the witness list, is expected to corroborate this by testifying about alleged attempts by Selebi to persuade him not to pursue charges against Rautenbach.

Rautenbach’s long-time lawyer James Ramsay is also listed as a witness.

The trial is expected to kick-off with star witness Paul Stemmet who previously headed up Palto — a private security company cum semi-official police squad that enjoyed direct access to Selebi.

It was Stemmet who was present at key moments of the Selebi saga — when Selebi became re-aquainted with Agliotti, when Agliotti met with Rautenbach — and it was Stemmet who allegedly reported to Selebi his suspicions of Agliotti’s involvement in a major mandrax smuggling attempt that Palto had intercepted.

Also high up on the witness list are Diane Muller and accountant Martin Flint: two key witnesses from the company where Agliotti had an office — Mavericks in Midrand — where Selebi allegedly came to collect envelopes of cash from Agliotti.

Dean Friedman and Leon Fouche from the auditing firm KPMG, who have carried a forensic investigation into Selebi’s financial position, will also give the court a glimpse into monies flowing in and out of the former national commissioner’s account.

The duo are expected to try to show that Selebi could not have possibly maintained his lifestyle using only his police salary.

The long awaited case is also expected to serve as a proxy trial of former president Thabo Mbeki.

It was Mbeki who resisted taking action against Selebi — considered a staunch and powerful Mbeki ally. It was Mbeki who went to the extent of suspending Pikoli when he refused to back down on his decision to charge the police commissioner.

Even after Selebi was charged, the prosecution faced an uphill battle obtaining the cooperation of senior police officials and getting copies of police files relating to the case.

Insiders say the advent of the Jacob Zuma administration has turned the tide. Men perceived as Selebi loyalists have been moved aside, notably via the resignation of former acting national police commissioner Tim Williams and the blocking of divisional commissioner Mulangi Mphego’s bid to take over the powerful crime intelligence portfolio.
Williams and Mphego are both listed as prosecution witnesses, though it is by no means certain the state will call them.

The prosecution also faces a challenge with their star witness Agliotti whose criminal background and previous backtracking puts question marks over his credibility.

NPA spokesperson Mthunzi Mhanga told the Mail and Guardian that the prosecuting team led by Gerrie Nel will be ready to proceed on Monday morning.