M&G investigative journalist Adriaan Basson was past of the team that covered former police chief, Jackie Selebi’s corruption saga and subsequent trial, which found him guilty. Now Basson has produced a book on the scandal that shook the nation: Finish and Klaar.
Watch our video interview with Basson and read an extract from the book below.
Defence lawyers often joke that their most difficult task is to keep their clients out of the witness box. Advocate Jaap Cilliers and his team apparently nagged Jackie Selebi not to give evidence ‘because of his emotional attachment to the case’.
According to sources close to Selebi, the decision that he should testify was taken at a high-level meeting with his allies — his loyal former deputies André Pruis and Tim Williams, former head of police crime intelligence Mulangi Mphego, police head of detectives Rayman Lalla, and former NIA boss Manala Manzini.
Cilliers reportedly told these men they would be better witnesses than Selebi. Cilliers and Selebi had often mentioned André Pruis as someone who would testify for the defence. In the end he was never called. Neither was Mphego, who was extremely close to Selebi and could have given evidence about his numerous meetings and recordings of Agliotti.
Four years after the M&G first broke the Jackie Selebi corruption story, matters are finally drawing to a close. Selebi has been found guilty and awaits his fate and Adriaan Basson, associate partner at the M&G‘s Centre for Investigative Journalism, has written a book, Finish & Klaar, illustrating Selebi’s fall from grace. The M&G speaks to Basson about his new book.
Selebi insisted on testifying, telling his allies and legal team he had nothing to hide. This was a big mistake: his loyalists found it impossible to back up the lies he told in court.
On April 15 2010 Jacob Sello Selebi took the oath to tell the court ‘the whole truth and nothing but the truth’.
At first he looked uncomfortable in the witness box, but when he got going he was his good old self — the stubborn self-important police chief. He came across as arrogant and often made long speeches from the witness stand, irrelevant to the case.
He got into a number of heated arguments with Gerrie Nel, who had to remind Selebi that he (Nel) was the one asking questions.
Selebi spent nine days in the witness box. Each day he brought along two small black cushions embroidered with yellow writing saying ‘Pavarotti in Africa’, a reminder of his former high life. Throughout his evidence, however, the ex-police chief mostly remained standing. When Judge Joffe suggested he should sit, Selebi replied: ‘I stood for a long time in my life.’
All through the trial Cilliers referred to his client as ‘commissioner’. He started by asking Selebi about his background and his appointment as police commissioner.
Then Cilliers turned his attention to the relationship between Selebi and Agliotti:
Cilliers: The gist of the charges against you — [is that] you in fact received gratification, substantial sums of money from Mr Agliotti on various occasions in order to get you to act and/or not to act in a specific manner. You are aware of it?
Selebi: I am aware of that.
Cilliers: What is your evidence or reaction to this?
Selebi: I have never received money from Agliotti or any other person to act, or to omit to act in any particular way. I would never do that. I would never sell my soul for money, nor sell the country.
You know I am not just — I was not just commissioner of police because I was an employee of the government and I was looking for a job and getting a salary at the end of every month. I was commissioner of police because I had a bigger ideal to serve the success of this country.
It was not about monthly pay at the end of the month, it was never that. I have never ever received money in order to act in this or that way in all my life.
When he embarked on rhetoric, Selebi sounded more convincing than when he had to answer factual questions. There were times when I seriously wanted to believe his innocence, purely from a humane perspective. He looked old and aggrieved.
Here, I thought, was a man who’d spent large parts of his adult life in other countries fighting for democracy in his own country. Did he deserve this treatment from the system he’d fought for? Naturally the answer was yes: Selebi’s and the ANC’s struggle was precisely for principles like equality before the law and the independence of the judiciary.
But it was not a pleasure watching him fall apart in the full glare of the public eye.
Basson is an associate partner at the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism. Visit the centre here.