PRETORIA, South Africa – South Africa’s national police commissioner, who faces charges of corruption and trying to protect a convicted drug smuggler, has gone on extended leave, the president said Saturday.
The National Prosecuting Authority said Friday that charges would be filed imminently against Jackie Selebi, who also holds the largely ceremonial post of president of the international police agency Interpol. Selebi has consistently said he is innocent.
President Thabo Mbeki sought to reassure a nervous public that the government would continue its fight crime in a country that has more than 50 murders a day.
“Work will go on as normal. The police and all of its ranks will continue with its work as normal,” he told a news conference called to announce Selebi’s leave.
But the new scandal came as a further blow to South Africa’s international image. ANC president Jacob Zuma, who hopes to become the country’s president in 2009, is due to go on trial in August on corruption, fraud, money laundering and racketeering charges.
The prosecuting authority said the charges facing the police chief related to Selebi’s “generally corrupt relationship” with Glen Agliotti, a convicted drug trafficker.
Prosecutors allege Agliotti gave Selebi cash handouts, bought clothes for him and his family, and gave him $4,400 to pay for a dinner in Paris when he was elected head of Interpol. The payments totalled at least $175,000 between 2000 and 2005, the prosecuting authority said.
Selebi tried unsuccessfully to block the indictment against him in Pretoria’s High Court on Friday. The judge dismissed the bid, saying the judicial system would be undermined if Selebi were not prosecuted.
Mbeki said that Timothy Williams, deputy national commissioner for crime intelligence and crime detection, would be acting police chief. He said it was up to Interpol, the world’s largest police organization, to decide on Selebi’s future.
Interpol’s General Secretariat said it was “carefully monitoring” the situation and the matter involving Selebi would be discussed at its executive committee meeting in February.