Jackie Selebi, South African Police Head Convicted in Corruption Case, Dies at 64

Jackie Selebi, South Africa’s first black national police commissioner, who in 2010 was convicted of taking bribes from a drug trafficker in a trial that drew immense international attention, died on Friday in a Pretoria hospital. He was 64.

His death was announced on the website of the African National Congress, of which he had long been a ranking member. Mr. Selebi, who in 2012 was granted a medical parole less than a year into his 15-year prison term, was reported to have had diabetes and kidney disease.

One of the most prominent A.N.C. members to be convicted of corruption, Mr. Selebi had previously had a distinguished political career in both pre- and post-apartheid South Africa. His trial and its outcome were widely seen as a fall from grace, born of hubris and greed, of one of the country’s leading lights.

Mr. Selebi was appointed police commissioner in 2000 by Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s president. He held the post until 2008, when, amid allegations of corruption, he was placed on extended leave of absence. He was also a former member of South Africa’s parliament, a former South African ambassador to the United Nations and a former president of Interpol.

Mr. Selebi went on trial in Johannesburg in the fall of 2009 on charges that he had accepted cash and gifts from his friend Glenn Agliotti, a confessed drug kingpin, in exchange for confidential information about police investigations.

Mr. Agliotti, who testified for the prosecution, told of having given Mr. Selebi more than $150,000 in cash over time, and of squiring him on all-expense-paid shopping trips for designer clothing, including Canali neckties and Louis Vuitton shoes.

Testifying in his own defense, Mr. Selebi denied any wrongdoing, saying that he had been using Mr. Agliotti as a police informant.

After an eight-month trial, Mr. Selebi was convicted in July 2010; an appeals court upheld the conviction the next year. He began serving his sentence in December 2011 but was paroled 229 days later, after doctors diagnosed end-stage kidney failure.

Jacob Sello Selebi was born on March 7, 1950, in Soweto, a former black township that is now part of Johannesburg. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of the North, an institution for nonwhite students near Pietersburg. (It is now part of the University of Limpopo.)

Detained at least twice for anti-apartheid activities, Mr. Selebi spent periods of exile in Tanzania and the Soviet Union. During the 1980s he taught history at several schools, including the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College, an A.N.C.-run institution then in Morogoro, Tanzania.

He rose swiftly through the A.N.C. ranks, becoming the head of the organization’s Youth League in 1987; in 1991, after the government of President F. W. de Klerk began a gradual reversal of apartheid — the system was fully abolished in 1994 — Mr. Selebi was put in charge of repatriating A.N.C. exiles.

In 1993, he was named the director of the A.N.C.’s welfare department; the next year, with South Africa’s first democratic elections, he was voted into Parliament.

In 1995, Mr. Selebi became South Africa’s ambassador to the United Nations, a post he held until 1998. In that capacity, he served as chairman of the 1997 diplomatic conference in Oslo that drew up the first international treaty outlawing antipersonnel land mines, which so far has been signed by more than 160 nations. (Last year the United States, which has not signed the treaty, announced that it aspired to do so, though it set no firm date.)

Mr. Selebi was also the chairman of the 54th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, held in Geneva in 1998. That year he became director general of what was then South Africa’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In 2002, while serving as police commissioner, Mr. Selebi was named a vice president of Interpol, the international police organization. He became its president in 2004, the first African to hold the post, which he held until his resignation in 2008.

Even before his corruption trial, Mr. Selebi’s tenure as South Africa’s police commissioner was not without controversy. The appointment itself, which placed him in charge of the country’s 120,000-member national police service, incurred criticism, as Mr. Selebi had no background in law enforcement.

In 2000, shortly after his appointment, Mr. Selebi was publicly criticized for having called a black female police sergeant a chimpanzee. In 2007, he drew unfavorable notice worldwide when he suggested that public drinking and prostitution be legalized during the World Cup, held in South Africa in 2010.

Mr. Selebi’s trial proved to be a spectacle in South Africa and far beyond.

“So far, the trial has bordered on the grotesque,” The New York Times reported in October 2009. “Both the accused and the witness seem in competition to outdo the other’s attire. Each day, the news media report on the fineness of their ensembles, the suits, the shirts and the ties.”

In a statement on its website on Friday that made no mention of Mr. Selebi’s criminal conviction, the A.N.C. called him “a giant and leader of our people.”

Mr. Selebi’s survivors include his wife, Anne, and two children.

After being paroled in 2012, Mr. Selebi returned to his home in Waterkloof, a Pretoria suburb, where his wife, a nurse, supervised the dialysis he was said to need several times daily.

The next year a South African newspaper reported that he was seen shopping unaided in a Pretoria store. Accusations that he was too healthy to have received parole spread throughout the news media.

Mr. Selebi denied going into the store but seemed otherwise unperturbed by the report.

“The only time it gets difficult is when you get people who give you an impression that they can’t wait for you to die,” he told City Press, a South African newspaper, shortly afterward. “They don’t say it, but from what they do, you get an impression that these people just can’t wait.”


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