Jury's out on the worst witness
The most telling thing about the final submissions from Jackie Selebi’s defence team this week was not what was said but what was left out.
Closing arguments in the corruption trial of the former national police commissioner are the last step before Judge Meyer Joffe hands down his judgment in the trial that began more than six months ago.
The state is claiming that Selebi took more than R1,2-million from drug dealer Glenn Agliotti in what was a “generally corrupt relationship”. Selebi is also accused of defeating the ends of justice by showing Agliotti secret police reports.
Significantly, defence counsel Jaap Cilliers completely excluded Selebi’s own testimony from the defence’s heads of argument, which suggests that the defence has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned Selebi’s entire evidence.
There are a number of reasons why the defence might have done this. First, as state prosecutor Gerrie Nel pointed out on Monday, Selebi was not a very good witness.
Following the defence’s continual stabs at the credibility of Agliotti, the state’s main witness, Nel poked back, saying: “We will refrain from calling the accused the worst witness who has ever given evidence in a South African criminal court.
We will, however, submit that it is an undeniable fact that the defence can no longer argue that Agliotti remains the worst witness who has ever given evidence in a South African court.”
Referring to Selebi as a “lying witness”, he went on to detail the former top cop’s antics and argued that Selebi had fabricated an intelligence document he presented to the court.
Selebi is accused of showing Agliotti a draft national intelligence estimate containing the allegation that Selebi was receiving money from the Kebble family.
But when Selebi testified, he gave the court a secret police document that he claimed was like the one he showed Agliotti. Nel called it a “cut and paste document”.
The state also claims that Selebi lied about the occurrence of a meeting with former prosecutions boss, Vusi Pikoli, where Selebi allegedly told Pikoli he was concerned about his wife’s shares in a Kebble company.
Nel then told the court Selebi had pretended to have compiled, with his wife, a list of household expenses, which it turned out he knew little about.
Selebi also admitted to having consulted police intelligence officer Captain Marcus Tema, a state witness, while the prosecution was still presenting its case.
Nel pulled no punches in his portrayal of Selebi, calling him “arrogant”, “disrespectful” and “over-impressed with his own seniority and perceived importance”.
In return, Cilliers—without Selebi’s evidence to assist him—pummelled the credibility of Agliotti and his former fiancée, Dianne Muller, who could end up being the state’s strongest witness. The state claims she corroborated Agliotti’s version that he paid Selebi R110 000 in cash in December 2004.
Nel had pointed out that “the blush of a witness is as real as the dried blood-stain on a knife”, referring to Muller’s glare of disbelief at Selebi when he denied receiving any money from Agliotti.
But if Nel was insulting about Selebi’s conduct as a witness, Cilliers was no less than scathing about Agliotti. “We submit that we can state without fear of contradiction that Agliotti can be described as probably one of the most untruthful and unreliable witnesses ever to testify in this court — a detailed analysis of his credibility and reliability will probably run into hundreds of pages.”
He later said: “Agliotti, being the man that he is, would take anything rightly or wrongly that he deemed would corroborate his false version and make it his own version.”
Cilliers went so far as to accuse Agliotti and Muller of “conspiring” to adjust Muller’s version to corroborate his own, reminding the court that Muller is still paid a salary for secretarial services by Agliotti.
Cilliers’s method of pulling apart the prosecution’s case, one isolated accusation at a time, was scorned by Nel, who told the court: “It’s like putting lots of feathers on the one side and the accused’s version on the other. The accused’s version weighs nothing, because there is no version.”
But Cilliers argued Selebi was the victim of a “malicious prosecution”, claiming that the Scorpions’ investigation was based on false allegations against him that were politically motivated because he wanted the Scorpions integrated into the police and had uncovered dirt on Pikoli and his predecessor, Bulelani Ngcuka
Pity the isolated SelebiAll is not well in the Jackie Selebi camp. The former national police commissioner no longer arrives at the South Gauteng High Court with his entourage of legal counsel as he did for six months—he comes in solo.
At lunchtime he sits by himself in the passage outside Court 4B. Earlier in his trial his advocate, attorneys and family invariably surrounded him. When he approached his legal team during an adjournment this week, they all but ignored him.
But it seems someone has taken pity on him and has afforded him a special privilege; since closing arguments began on Monday, he has been driven to an entrance reserved for judges and employees of the department of correctional services escorting people in custody. A court insider described it as a “complete no-no”.
But Tlali Tlali, Justice Department spokesperson, said: “We granted Mr Selebi to use that entrance after he approached us with such request.”—Ilham Rawoot
“One doesn’t have to be a genius to understand what is going on,” Cilliers told the court. He later added: “We say this was a personal vendetta by the [Scorpions] and [the National Prosecuting Authority] against the accused.”
Significantly, Cilliers urged the court to abide by “the common law principle that says rather let a hundred guilty persons walk away than let one innocent person land in jail”.
Judgment will be handed down on July 1.