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South African Police Chief Placed on Leave Amid Reports of Corruption Charges


In South Africa, the national head of the police has been put on leave following an announcement by an independent investigating unit that he is to be charged with corruption. VOA's Scott Bobb reports from Johannesburg.

South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki Saturday placed national Police Chief Jackie Selebi on extended leave amid reports he will be charged soon with corruption.

Mr. Mbeki, who said Selebi agreed to the leave, said the law should take its course.

Selebi also holds the largely ceremonial post of president of the international police body, Interpol, which did not comment other than to say it would discuss the development at a meeting next month.

Selebi's suspension follows the announcement Friday by the head of an independent investigation unit that he will be charged soon with corruption and impeding justice.

At a court hearing requested by Selebi, the prosecutor announced that charges would be filed. South African legal experts said it was unprecedented for an individual to request details of a charge that has not yet been formally lodged.

Selebi will reportedly be accused of receiving some $175,000s from a friend who has been convicted of drug smuggling.

The case has escalated a growing confrontation between an independent investigative unit (called the Scorpions) and the South African Police Service which Selebi heads.

Police earlier this week arrested the head of the unit investigating Selebi and charged him with hindering the investigation of a colleague.

Supporters of the Scorpions and its sister prosecuting authority say the units are a major tool in the fight against corruption and moves against them are aimed at restricting their independence.

Critics of the units say they are being used to discredit certain political leaders. The critics say the units should be under the jurisdiction of the South African police.

The newly elected president of the ruling African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, was charged two weeks ago with corruption following an investigation by the same units. Zuma, the frontrunner to succeed South African President Thabo Mbeki in elections next year, says he is innocent but would step aside if convicted.

At a speech Saturday marking the anniversary of the ANC, Zuma called for unity.

"The ANC belongs to all its members equally," he said. "We want to emphasize that memberships or leadership of the ANC must never be used to marginalize or exclude others."

The ANC, which has dominated South African politics since the end of apartheid 14 years ago, has been divided over the candidacy of Zuma who thwarted Mr. Mbeki's bid for a third term as party president at a congress last month.

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