S Africa police chief says ready to defend himself

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JOHANNESBURG, Oct 1 (Reuters) South Africa's police chief said he would be prepared to defend himself in court against any allegations he had links to organised crime.

Public broadcaster SABC reported on Thursday that prosecutors had secured an arrest warrant for National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, who is also president of the international police organisation Interpol.

South Africa's Sunday Times reported there was a warrant for Selebi on charges including racketeering, corruption, and being an accessory after the fact to the 2005 murder of businessman.

The government has not confirmed the warrant and President Thabo Mbeki has not commented publicly on the case.

In an interview broadcast today on South Africa's Talk Radio 702, Selebi said he was not aware of a warrant but would cooperate with any investigation as long as it was not part of a political campaign to discredit him.

Asked if he would like to have his day in court, Selebi said: ''If there are allegations that can be proven, I would like to, but I do not want to go to court on allegations that do not exist.'' ''I am certain that I, Jackie Selebi, have never been involved in that kind of wrongdoing.'' Some of the alleged charges relate to Selebi's friendship with businessman Glenn Agliotti, who is accused of participating in mining magnate Brett Kebble's murder, the Times said. Agliotti has denied any wrongdoing.

Selebi denies any financial links or any knowledge of Agliotti's alleged underworld connections.

The former anti-apartheid hero said he he felt as if the media had tried and sentenced him. ''I think that what is left for me is to wear my (prison) uniform,'' he said.

Mbeki and his cabinet have backed the police chief in the past despite calls for his sacking and resignation after questions arose about his association with Agliotti.

Selebi has also been criticised for failing to reduce one of the world's highest crime rates. There were 19,000 murders in the year to March 31, 2007, and an average of 144 women reported raped every day in South Africa.

Reports of the arrest warrant came during a week of drama that began with the September 24 suspension of Vusi Pikoli, South Africa's top prosecutor.

A government spokesman said Mbeki suspended Pikoli because of his poor relationship with the justice minister.

It has been widely reported in the local media that the move was connected to Pikoli's investigation of Selebi.

The confusion comes less than three months before the ANC holds a key leadership conference.

Mbeki, who took over the ANC from Nelson Mandela in 1997, is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a third term as the country's president in 2009. But nothing prevents him from running again for the ANC leadership, and Mbeki has suggested he will do so.

A likely challenger would be Jacob Zuma, who was the country's deputy president until he was fired by Mbeki two years ago amid a corruption scandal.

REUTERS SKB KN1609

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