The judge hearing former police commissioner Jackie Selebi’s corruption case was placed under 24-hour police protection after receiving death threats.
Judge Meyer Joffe convicted Selebi of corruption in July and sentenced him to 15 years’ imprisonment. Selebi is appealing the ruling.
Joffe received the threatening calls in late October last year while Selebi’s legal team was arguing that the judge should recuse himself from the trial.
Selebi’s lawyer, Wynanda Coetzee, said this week she and her client were “shocked” by the allegations and “distanced themselves from any such threats”. They were not aware of the threats, but “observed that Judge Joffe was under protection from early in the trial”.
“Threats of this nature are condemned in the strongest terms and Mr Selebi and his defence team have great respect for the judicial process and the independence thereof,” said Coetzee.
Joffe was abroad this week and could not be reached for comment.
The threats against the judge came in the same week that drug-trafficker Glenn Agliotti finished his testimony for the state and just after Joffe had allowed a secret recording of an interview between Agliotti and former crime intelligence boss Mulangi Mphego to be screened in court.
The Mail & Guardian has learned that Joffe initially approached the National Prosecuting Authority to provide him with protection, but that the duty was taken over soon afterwards by the police.
Immediately after Agliotti ended his testimony, Selebi’s advocate, Jaap Cilliers, brought an application for Joffe to recuse himself. Selebi believed the judge was biased against him, mainly because of Joffe’s comments to Cilliers during argument.
Application for recusal
The highlight of the clash between Joffe and Cilliers occurred after City Press published extracts from another secret videotape of a meeting between Agliotti, Mphego and former National Intelligence Agency boss Manala Manzini. Joffe was upset about the fact that the article appeared during the trial and suggested somebody was trying to influence the outcome of the case.
Cilliers wanted to question Agliotti extensively about what was said on the tape, but Joffe limited his questioning to verbatim quotes from the City Press report.
In the application for Joffe’s recusal, Selebi said he had formed a “clear perception that the honourable presiding judge is biased against me”.
According to Selebi, his perception developed over a period of time and was not based on “one single incident”.
Joffe’s refusal to withdraw formed part of Selebi’s application for leave to appeal against his conviction and sentence. However, Joffe granted Selebi leave to appeal only against his finding that Selebi had received bribes from Agliotti.
The former top cop is petitioning the Supreme Court of Appeal in an attempt to widen grounds for appeal.
Deputy Justice Minister Andries Nel announced last week that the state would not foot the bill for Selebi’s appeal, saying it had already paid more than R17-million towards his legal fees and that his chance of a successful appeal was slim.
Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo said it was not ordinary practice to comment on any individual under police protection.
Adriaan Basson has just published a book on the Selebi saga titled: Finish & Klaar: Selebi’s Fall from Interpol to the Underworld.
The M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, supported by M&G Media and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa, produced this story.www.amabhungane.co.za.