South African police chief guilty of taking drug bribes

One of the defining trials of the post-apartheid era in South Africa ended yesterday with the former head of the police force convicted on corruption charges.

Jackie Selebi, an apartheid-era activist with powerful connections within the ruling ANC, was found guilty of accepting bribes from the convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti. The court in Johannesburg heard the 60-year-old policeman had gone on lavish spending sprees collecting designer clothes and living far beyond his official earnings.

Agliotti said in evidence: "When the accused and I met, I enjoyed shopping and so did he. Him being my friend, I would instruct shop attendants to put all the clothes on my account." Among the gifts was a red patent leather Louis Vuitton handbag worth £850, a birthday present for his wife.

Selebi claimed he was the victim of a conspiracy to discredit him after his criticism of an elite crime-fighting unit called the Scorpions. The unit was eventually disbanded after it attempted to investigate corruption allegations against the man who is now president, Jacob Zuma. But Judge Meyer Joffe said yesterday Selebi's defence had no basis, and that he showed "complete contempt for the truth" during the trial. He will be sentenced on 14 July.

In the post-apartheid era, the ANC has been dogged by persistent accusations of corruption.

The party said yesterday's verdict, "clearly indicates that South Africa as a country is governed by laws that are applied without any fear or favour to anyone".

However, there are investigations ongoing into the party member's entanglements with state contracts, and the president himself escaped a corruption trial only on a technicality and has used his immunity in office to ward off any further questions.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said it was now "time for the many other senior ANC politicians, not least President Jacob Zuma, to also have their day in court."

At its onset, the Selebi case had threatened to explode South Africa's political elite with revelations about the way in which the police and justice system had been dragged into a power struggle between the then president Thabo Mbeki and Mr Zuma.

Mr Zuma has since won that battle, and it is thought unlikely yesterday's conviction will impact on his presidency.