JOHANNESBURG – South Africa released its disgraced former police chief from prison on medical grounds on Friday, after serving 229 days of a 15-year sentence and prompting accusations the ruling ANC bends justice for the politically connected.
Jackie Selebi, also the former head of international police agency Interpol, is the most prominent member of the African National Congress to be convicted of corruption, for taking bribes from a drug smuggler.
He suffers from kidney disease and diabetes.
“Mr Selebi will be going home today,” prisons minister Sbu Ndebele told a news conference.
“The department has limited capacity to provide for palliative care needed by some offenders.”
Palliative care often refers to specialised medical care for the terminally ill.
While Selebi appears to be genuinely sick from renal disease and receives regular dialysis, some South Africans said the parole is evidence of a two-tier justice system.
In 2009 Schabir Shaik, a financial adviser to President Jacob Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, was released on medical parole while serving a 15-year corruption sentence. He has since been seen playing golf and dining at expensive restaurants.
The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, called for full disclosure of Selebi’s medical condition.
“There cannot be one law for the politically connected and another for the rest of us,” said the DA’s shadow prisons minister James Selfe.
The ANC said the decision to release Selebi was a unanimous one by an independent parole board of doctors.
“We are satisfied that the parole was granted on its merit,” ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said in a statement.
“Those who are doubtful about the correctness of the decision to release Selebi on medical grounds, can indeed access the records of the medical parole board.”
Some South Africans were skeptical.
“If you are in politics it doesn’t matter if you commit crime, your friends will ensure that you don’t suffer in jail,” said Nkosi Dube, a Johannesburg taxi driver who was waiting for customers near a crowded taxi rank.
“Us small guys are the ones who pay.”
Locally Selebi was one of the most talked about subjects on Twitter.
“It really is who you know,” said one user of the micro-blogging website. “Who said crime doesn’t pay? How many people die in prison due to ill health?”
During the trial, it emerged that known drug dealer Glenn Agliotti paid 1.2 million rand to Selebi, who was president of Interpol at the time.
Corruption has become rife in South Africa since the end of apartheid 17 years ago. Zuma fired Selebi’s successor Bheki Cele in June following after he was implicated in a suspect deal for new offices for the police worth nearly $100 million.