South African police chief jailed for 15 years

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South Africa's stop-start war on corruption claimed its biggest success yesterday as the country's former leading policeman was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Jackie Selebi was told by a judge that he was "an embarrassment to all right-thinking citizens" as he was sent down on corruption charges.

The conviction of the politically connected former head of Interpol and chief of the South African police service is being held up as evidence that the government is serious about combating rampant graft in sub-Saharan Africa's biggest economy.

In a trial that dominated headlines in South Africa for months, the 60-year-old was found to have gone on shopping sprees with a convicted drug dealer and was accused of repeatedly perverting the course of justice.

The country's leading opposition figures saluted the verdict but called for substantive investigation of high-level graft. The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, said the sentence was a "rare instance of justice".

The ruling ANC has been repeatedly accused of fostering a culture of corruption. President Jacob Zuma escaped persistent graft charges only on a technicality, and has had to use his status in government to prevent further investigation.

He has also overseen the controversial release on health grounds of his former business advisor Schabir Shaik who, like Mr Selebi, had been sentenced to 15 years in prison. In his case, the conviction was on the grounds of soliciting bribes for Mr Zuma.

Critics allege that the former police chief has been offered up to the courts only because he ended up on the losing side of the ANC's internal struggles. He was close to the former president, Thabo Mbeki, who was ousted after a bitter struggle with Mr Zuma.

The AfriForum advocacy group said Mr Selebi, who headed the police from 2000 to 2008, was brought to justice because of the work of the independent Scorpions elite unit, which Mr Zuma has since disbanded.

"Selebi would probably not have been prosecuted if the investigation had been left to a unit that fell directly under his command," said AfriForum's Nantes Kelder.

The ANC was recently criticised by its junior partner in the trade union movement, when Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the COSATU union, accused the party of failing to investigate high-level fraud.

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