BNC London: O’Sullivan Q&A – SA’s crime crisis and surge in white-collar fraud

During a Q&A session at the BizNews conference in London, Alec Hogg spoke to forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan on crime in South Africa. O’Sullivan highlighted the dire state of the SAPS police force, unable to handle the crime volume due to poor resource allocation. He shared cases of rampant white-collar crime and emphasized the need for improved police leadership and judicial efficiency to combat the overwhelming criminal activities. Despite the challenges, O’Sullivan remains optimistic about potential improvements in the justice system.

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Summary of the Q&A session with Paul O’Sullivan at BNC London

In a revealing interview, Alec Hogg and forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan discuss the alarming state of crime in South Africa. O’Sullivan highlights the inefficiency of the police force, burdened by an overwhelming number of dockets and a lack of strategic decision-making, leading to a low clearance rate for serious crimes like murder, which stands at less than 7%. This inefficiency allows criminals to act with impunity. He also points out the rise in white-collar crime, noting several cases involving significant embezzlement by individuals in trusted positions, often exploiting weak oversight and segregation of duties.

O’Sullivan shares a concerning story of theft involving a famous rugby player, demonstrating how systemic issues facilitate criminal activities. He further contrasts crime handling in South Africa with other countries, sharing personal anecdotes to illustrate broader issues in global law enforcement.

Despite these challenges, O’Sullivan remains hopeful about improving the criminal justice system. He emphasizes the importance of promoting effective leaders and providing specialized training for those handling white-collar crimes. He underscores the necessity of focusing on “low-hanging fruit” in prosecutions to expedite justice and reduce the backlog of cases. O’Sullivan concludes with optimism, believing that targeted efforts can lead to significant improvements in the fight against crime in South Africa.

Edited transcript of the Q&A session with Paul O’Sullivan at BNC London 

Alec Hogg [00:00:08] I’m not going to go through your predictions for the election, but I am going to go through your views on what’s happening with crime in South Africa. Is there any light on the horizon?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:00:22] Yeah. It’s sad. It’s switched on.

Alec Hogg [00:00:24] It is on.

Paul O’Sullivan [00:00:25] It’s a sad state of affairs. The police are unable to investigate the number of dockets being opened, so they have to decide which ones to investigate without any intelligence. Easier cases are left, while difficult ones are worked on. The clear-up rate on murder is less than 7%. It means people can commit murder repeatedly without getting caught. The same applies to robbery, rape, and other contact crimes. The biggest crimes now are white-collar crimes. We’ve handled cases involving white-collar crime with shocking profiles. For example, two sisters stole 137 million from their employer over nine years due to lack of segregation of duties. Another case involved a man who stole 35 million over ten years. Crime in South Africa is not looking good.

Alec Hogg [00:03:06] We had an interesting issue not long ago, with a famous rugby player. Could you tell us that story?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:03:25] He was a member of the ’95 team and came to us because someone had been stealing from him. We identified the staff members responsible, who had stolen about 30 million. They were buying truckloads of cough syrup containing codeine and selling it on the black market. Sadly, the player passed away before we fully resolved the case.

Alec Hogg [00:04:11] Codeine.

Paul O’Sullivan [00:04:12] Yes, codeine. In Sandton, there’s a house openly advertising drug sales with a sign showing a cannabis leaf. This shows how brazen crime has become. Crime is not only a South African issue; in the UK, the police are overwhelmed and often don’t take reports unless necessary for insurance purposes. I saw three men jump a barrier at a train station, followed them to a hotel that turned out to house refugees. This incident highlights the broader issues with crime and immigration.

Alec Hogg [00:10:13] The world has serious challenges. A couple of questions from Wendy. How are you alerted to crimes, particularly white-collar crime? Does it come from whistleblowers?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:10:28] It depends. For Forensics for Justice, we have a hotline and a website for anonymous tips. Not all leads are actionable, but we get some useful ones. For instance, a worker from CMC gave us information that led to uncovering corrupt tenders worth over four billion rand.

Alec Hogg [00:12:01] On the subject of foreign-conspired fraud, what did you discover investigating John Stratton?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:12:15] John Stratton, nicknamed “the turtle,” was the mastermind behind Brett Kebble’s murder. Stratton stole $360 million from JCI, causing its collapse. He was convicted in Australia for bringing proceeds of crime into the country but got away with a fine due to his age.

Alec Hogg [00:15:34] Brett Kebble controlled Randgold Resources. Could you paint a picture of what you see happening over the next five years with crime and policing in South Africa?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:16:38] I believe the criminal justice system will improve if we keep the pressure on. There are pockets of excellence we try to promote. We offer free training in white-collar crime investigation. Specialized commercial crime courts and trained judges are helping. However, the backlog is massive, and it would take decades to clear it at the current rate. We need to focus on low-hanging fruit—charging fewer crimes to get quicker convictions.

Alec Hogg [00:18:57] Didn’t they do that with Markus Jooste?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:19:01] Markus Jooste handled his own justice. But had he gone to trial, it would have been a low-hanging fruit job.

Alec Hogg [00:21:05] What needs to be done to sort out the police and justice system? Can it be done?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:21:15] Yes, it can. If not, I would have left Johannesburg. If the system continues as is, we’ll end up with gated communities and chaos outside. But there are good people in the system. I’m working to get them into authority positions, like Shadrack Sibiya, who is now Deputy National Commissioner of Police.

Alec Hogg [00:23:14] How much of a threat is Russian interference in the upcoming elections?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:23:22] I don’t see any threat from Russia. My daughter, a professor at Harvard, analyzed Russian interference in the US elections but concluded South Africa’s elections are not as significant to Russia.

Alec Hogg [00:24:41] Your daughter is writing a book on Taylor Swift. Can you tell us about that?

Paul O’Sullivan [00:25:03] Yes, my second eldest daughter, a space scientist and professor at Harvard, is writing a book on Taylor Swift’s economic impact. She received a significant advance for it. Taylor Swift is to the US economy what ABBA was to Sweden’s. Another daughter has a business making and selling Taylor Swift bracelets. Taylor Swift’s influence is massive, and my daughter’s book is expected to be a bestseller.

Alec Hogg [00:27:10] The book’s about the changing economy, and your daughter has been published in major outlets.

Paul O’Sullivan [00:27:52] Yes, just Google “Sinead O’Sullivan Harvard interplanetary economics” to see her work.

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