Question mark hangs over Selebi trial

South Africa will know by 11:30am on Friday whether the corruption trial of former police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi will continue or be postponed for at least six months.

After a day of arguments, there’s no telling whether Judge Meyer Joffe will recuse himself from the trial of Selebi.

Joffe looked a troubled man by the end of Thursday, and one whose ‘very essence” had been affected by defence counsel Jaap Cilliers’ explanations of why the judge could be perceived to be biased.

‘Your lordship was to some extent hostile to the defence,” said Cilliers, referring to interactions between himself and Joffe when he attempted to cross examine state witness and drug dealer Glenn Agliotti on the contents of an article in City Press newspaper.

Cilliers said that he has been in his profession for a long time, and was used to ‘rude remarks from the bench”, to which Joffe, clearly disturbed, replied, ‘I take the greatest umbrage in that.”

Cilliers, although taking jabs at Joffe’s neutrality, insisted throughout his arguments that he was ‘not suggesting that your lordship is deliberately dishonest”, but, rather that his actions may cause Selebi to perceive or suspect that he is biased.

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel then had his turn to speak and called Selebi’s application for the judge’s recusal ‘weak”.

‘There is no real merit in this application,” he said, adding that the application was based on attacking the prosecution, the Scorpions and the National Prosecuting Authority.

Nel also dismissed the strength of Cilliers’ earlier claim that Joffe’s partiality was affected by media reports.

‘The accused is not the first person to stand trial with a media campaign against him,” said Nel. ‘I’m going to refer to — Advocate Barbie. That case ran for about a year. The judge passed away and another judge had to take over. Are you saying that we have to ask every judge ‘did you read the papers?’”.

Joffe, whose mood appeared to have lifted after the lunch break, replied: ‘Are you asking me to pass away?” to laughter, and a sense of relief, from the courtroom.

Joffe then removed his glasses and said: ‘This is a very difficult application because it goes to my every essence. I consider myself a well-informed South African. I get a number of papers delivered to my home. But I do not read matters that are not fact ... I have not been affected by the media.”

Joffe then adjourned the proceedings and said, in closing: ‘I know this wasn’t easy to argue. It certainly wasn’t easy to listen to.”

‘How long have you been senior counsel?’
Earlier, Cilliers listed the ways in which Selebi felt that Joffe had been biased against him. The first was that when Agliotti admitted to lying to the court Joffe did not raise the issue of the “conduct of the prosecution” who “had knowledge of the fact that their witness was lying”.

Cilliers’ next point was that chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel and his prosecuting team withheld important documents from the defence, which they then included in a bundle they had handed to Joffe.

“The prosecution acted with ulterior motive ... they manipulated the evidence,” said Cilliers. “You did not raise how it came about that the documents were put in that bundle.”

Joffe, appearing to be nearing the end of his tether, asked Cilliers: “Mr Cilliers, how long have you been senior counsel? If you felt hard done by by Mr Nel’s conduct, why didn’t you tell me? I would’ve dealt with it. Why do you put it at my door and not raise it yourself ... I’m being taken to task for not chastising Mr Nel. I’m putting it to you, why didn’t you raise the objection?”

The third issue revolved around a controversial City Press article of two weeks ago, which described a video that had been leaked to the newspaper by an unknown source. Joffe had not allowed Cilliers to complete cross-examining Agliotti on the article.

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