/ 16 October 2009

Selebi’s woes are far from over

He was exposed as a barefaced liar, a suave scumbag with no scruples ‘knocking” millions off the wealthy in exchange for access to his ‘cash cop”. Yet Glenn Agliotti remains the state’s primary witness in its corruption case against former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

In week two of the marathon trial, Selebi’s advocate Jaap Cilliers tenaciously tried every trick in the book to get concessions out of Agliotti that he lied in his evidence-in-chief about his alleged corrupt relationship with the former top cop.

To an extent Cilliers succeeded: Agliotti admitted lying, time and again, to make money or secure a get-out-of-jail-free card from the Scorpions. Added to that was Judge Meyer Joffe’s decision on Thursday to allow a video recording of an interview by South Africa’s intelligence agencies of Agliotti as ‘preliminary evidence”.

In the video, played on a flat-screen television in courtroom 4B of the South Gauteng High Court, Agliotti alleges that the Scorpions told him they were not interested in solving Brett Kebble’s murder or any related crimes — all they wanted was Selebi behind bars.

But the convicted druglord stood firm on at least one aspect of his testimony during cross-examination — that he paid Selebi hundreds of thousands of rands over a period of time, collected mostly from Agliotti’s Midrand offices.

This is, of course, no small part of his evidence. If chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel had had his way, he would probably have led Agliotti only on this aspect of his evidence in his quest to prove the corrupt relationship between the cop and the crook.

But, unfortunately for Nel, this is not how the justice system works and he took a calculated risk in exposing Agliotti to the tough, sometimes crude cross-examination of a seasoned silk such as Cilliers. This is the man who successfully defended ‘Dr Death”, Wouter Basson, against 76 criminal counts ranging from murder to fraud. He eats gangsters like Agliotti for breakfast.

Throughout the cross-examination Agliotti was exposed as an unreliable witness, not just through his less than credible honesty, but in little snafus that have been appearing in his evidence and the haphazard and nonchalant way in which he deals with them. These were some of Agliotti’s significant concessions:

  • He admitted lying to people for ‘financial gain”. He told the late Brett Kebble that his friend, Clinton Nassif, worked for ‘Selebi’s team”, when in fact, they had not even met;
  • Agliotti made allegations in his sworn statements that were represented as facts, but emerged in court to be hearsay or what Cilliers called ‘second-hand knowledge”. One of these is his claim that businessman Gavin Varejes sponsored holidays for Selebi in return for preference in tender awards; and
  • Agliotti also admitted to swearing to a statement that he knew was ‘not totally true”, either because he had had ‘a heavy luncheon” or ‘thought it was what the NIA [National Intelligence Agency] wanted to hear” for him to secure a deal with them.

This affidavit was signed on January 4 2008 and was used by Selebi in his unsuccessful application to have the charges against him withdrawn. ‘We all lie,” Agliotti told the court.

Even more sensational was Agliotti’s insistence that he ‘never bribed” Selebi — a claim repeated in his video interview with crime intelligence head Mulangi Mphego. This subject was explored during cross-examination about his change of heart to retract the ‘NIA statement” to the Scorpions with an affidavit six days later.

In his statement to the NIA Agliotti said he ‘never bribed Selebi” and that he wouldn’t testify against his friend. Six days later he told the Scorpions under oath: ‘I have never maintained that I never ever bribed Selebi and that I was not going to testify.”

At least one part of this statement was true — Agliotti is finally testifying against Selebi. And his explanation in court about the ‘bribery”, albeit clumsy, does hold some water.

Agliotti doesn’t believe that he was corrupt by paying Selebi. He has reiterated this in court, giving his definition of corruption as ‘paying someone to give you tenders”. He further explained: ‘I’m not au fait with the actual law terminology of bribery. I didn’t understand it.”

And maybe this is true. Maybe Agliotti doesn’t understand corruption, especially under the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004, which casts the net much wider than ‘paying someone to give you tenders”.

But what does it mean for the state’s case if Agliotti doesn’t believe he actually bribed Selebi and if Joffe accepts Cilliers’s portrayal of Agliotti as a scumbag liar?

In terms of the 2004 Act, under which Selebi is charged, a public officer is guilty of corruption if he ‘directly or indirectly accepts or agrees or offers to accept any gratification from any other person, whether for the benefit of himself … or for the benefit of another person”.

If Joffe accepts that Selebi took money and clothing from Agliotti, the state has jumped that hurdle, irrespective of Agliotti’s definition of corruption.

Looking at the state’s list of witnesses, Agliotti may not be the only person to testify about Selebi’s cash. At least three other possible witnesses could be called on this subject:

  • Dianne Muller, Agliotti’s former fiancée, who allegedly helped Agliotti pack R100 000 in cash for Selebi and saw him collecting the envelope from the Midrand office;
  • Martin Flint, Muller’s father and business partner, who was allegedly asked by Agliotti to cash cheques at the bank to pay Selebi. Flint allegedly made the entries ‘cash cop” and ‘JS/GA” on cheque book slips — on Agliotti’s instruction; and
  • Dean Friedman, an auditor at KPMG, which the state contracted to perform forensic audits on the money that allegedly flowed to Selebi. As in President Jacob Zuma’s corruption trial, it is expected that KPMG will provide a lifestyle audit of Selebi that could indicate whether he needed funding outside his government salary to sustain his lifestyle.

After proving Selebi received gratification, the state’s next hurdle is to show he did this to act ‘personally or by influencing another person so to act” in a manner that is illegal, dishonest, unauthorised, an abuse of authority, a breach of trust or the violation of a legal duty.

Agliotti has provided numerous examples of Selebi’s alleged assistance to him and his cronies — from showing him a confidential British intelligence report in a car at a shopping mall (Selebi is also charged separately for defeating the ends of justice) to having Selebi on speed-dial whenever he had personal troubles, such as a break-in at his neighbour’s apartment.

And then there is Billy Rautenbach and his lawyer, who were allegedly helped by Selebi through Agliotti to ascertain whether an international warrant for his arrest was issued.

Although the state’s case took a knock this week, it would be premature to claim the end of the road is nigh, particularly in a case such as this where red herrings are as attractive as the espressos at the coffee shop across the road from the court.