Media win right to scrutinise evidence in Selebi trial

Both the prosecution and defence in the Jackie Selebi corruption trial agreed on Wednesday morning to make available to the media all evidence submitted during the trial.

This comes after the Mail & Guardian, Avusa, the Independent Group and Media24, approached the South Gauteng High Court to ask for access to all exhibits after experiencing difficulties in getting hold of annexures and affidavits during the court case.

On Tuesday afternoon, the M&G was refused access to a forensic report by audit firm KPMG that was the basis of evidence by auditor Dean Friedman on Monday and Tuesday.

The report investigated Selebi’s financial situation and traced cash payments allegedly made for his benefit by his former friend and drug-dealer Glenn Agliotti.

Chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel told Judge Meyer Joffe that three categories of exhibits have been handed to the court: evidence that has been identified and proven; affidavits by third parties that are put to witnesses, but not yet proven, and affidavits by witnesses who have or are due to testify in the trial.

Nel had no difficulty granting the media access to documents that fell into categories one and three, but said the media could not have access to unproven statements by third parties.

Defence counsel Jaap Cilliers agreed with Nel, but cautioned that statements made by witnesses giving evidence may contradict their testimony or contain defamatory statements.

Joffe remarked that the media was taking the ‘burden” upon themselves, and agreed with Cilliers it was a risk. ‘If they don’t indicate the distinction between an affidavit and evidence tendered before court, that is the risk they take.”

Advocate Frank Snyckers, appearing for the M&G, told the court it was important what the press did with the access. ‘If the press mischaracterises ...
that is the risk it takes.”

Directly after hearing counsel for the media, the state introduced their next witness, security boss Stephen Sander.

Sander was a business partner of Clint Nassif, the former head of security of the Kebble family who is also on the state’s witness list.

According to the M&G‘s lawyer Dario Milo of Webber Wentzel, access to documentation is pivotal for the media to report accurately on the trial and to respect the public interest.

‘The media houses were concerned that documents such as the KPMG report that were formally introduced as evidence in the trial, were not being made available as required by the principle of open justice,” said Milo.

‘When access is provided to documents upon which oral evidence is based in a court case, the media are able to report with greater clarity and accuracy in relation to matters of intense public interest. The principle that this agreement by the judge, the media and the parties establishes is that once a document is proved as evidence to which the judge may have regard, that evidence must also be made available to the media.”

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