JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- A disgraced former South African police chief and Interpol boss serving a 15-year prison sentence for corruption was released Friday on medical parole, with officials insisting he didn’t get preferential treatment.
Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele announced that Jackie Selebi, who began serving his sentence last year, had been granted release. Selebi needs dialysis three times a day for kidney failure and suffers from diabetes.
His lawyer, Wynanda Coetzee, told the SAPA news agency that Selebi was very ill and should have been released much earlier.
Selebi served just over 200 days in custody -- none of it in a prison cell. He was held in the prison's medical wing and a Pretoria hospital under the supervision of the Correctional Services Department.
Selebi was convicted of fraud after receiving money from a convicted drug trafficker and mobster.
Confidence in South Africa’s medical parole system has been battered after Schabir Shaik, a close ally of President Jacob Zuma, was released in 2009 after serving just over two years of a 15-year jail term for a fraud conviction.
Shaik, Zuma’s former financial advisor, was supposedly suffering from a terminal case of hypertension when he was released so that he might die with dignity. Three years later he is in good health, claiming that consuming prodigious amounts of goji berries was the key to his recovery.
Shaik has been spotted by South African media playing golf, and vacationing at a luxury resort in breach of his parole conditions. He was also accused of hitting a journalist who was shadowing him.
According to legal analyst and blogger Pierre de Vos, the law was clear at the time of Shaik’s medical parole that only prisoners who are terminally ill were entitled to it. But the law was recently changed to allow a prisoner to get medical parole if he or she is physically incapacitated "so as to severely limit daily activity or inmate self-care," according to De Vos.
De Vos tweeted Friday that, while Selebi was genuinely ill, there were other prisoners in more serious condition who didn’t get medical parole.
"Prisoners who are very sick are often not granted parole. Selebi has. The difference is that they are not connected, famous," he wrote. "Our criminal justice system needs to be fair by treating people the same regardless of race or other factors."
Correctional Services Commissioner Tom Moyane denied Selebi got special treatment when he was granted parole.
"It was confirmed that he is suffering from the diseases that the doctors said he is suffering from," he told local media Friday. "So there was no preferential treatment to Mr. Selebi."
-- Robyn Dixon
Photo: A file photograph showing former South African police chief and head of Interpol Jackie Selebi arriving at court in Johannesburg, South Africa, in August 2010. Credit: Kim Ludbrook / European Pressphoto Agency