Cape Town: The former parliamentary whip for South Africa's ANC was freed from jail yesterday after serving a fraction of his fraud sentence, prompting allegations of preferential treatment.

Local ANC leaders welcomed Tony Yengeni as he was paroled after just 20 weeks of a four-year term, fuelling opposition charges that the ruling party is soft on corruption, especially among its own.

"It's a great day for me and my family and for the movement, in that I'm now walking out of the gates of the prison, a place I was not supposed to be in the first place," Yengeni told supporters outside the prison near Cape Town before departing for a relative's home, where a party was planned.

Yengeni was sentenced in 2003 for defrauding parliament in a case linked to a multi-billion-dollar arms deal that also landed former deputy president Jacob Zuma in court.

Known for his fondness for sharp suits and flashy cars, the former anti-apartheid guerrilla leader was once a rising star in the African National Congress, the liberation movement that became the ruling party.

He resigned as chief whip after details emerged of a big discount he had received on a luxury four-wheel-drive Mercedes Benz from DaimlerChrysler Aerospace South Africa, subsequently folded into European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co (EADS). The company was involved in a multi-billion-dollar arms deal that has been dogged by allegations of graft.

Yengeni, who remains a member of the powerful ANC National Executive Committee, has long maintained his innocence, but failed to overturn his conviction.

Allegations of preferential treatment began while he was still in jail.

"The Department of Correctional Service and the ANC have made a complete mockery of his prison term," Sybil Seaton, a spokeswoman for the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party, said in a statement.

"Every rule in the book has been changed or bent, it seems, to accommodate Mr Yengeni." At the start of his sentence, a group of ANC officials including the speaker of parliament carried Yengeni to prison on their shoulders.