Paul O’Sullivan taps into crowdfunding to expand his fight against SA corruption

Fearless forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan has introduced an innovative way to address his dual frustrations of mushrooming corruption and lack of resources to fight it. The crime fighter whose scalps include jailing crooked former SA Police and Interpol bossman Jackie Selebi, is rapidly running out of savings. So instead of giving up the fight for financial reasons together with his associate Sarah-Jane Trent, he has launched a crowdsourcing approach to funding the endeavour. They are doing so through a freshly minted NGO called Forensics For Justice. Details of their current and some past cases are on the website, but what you won’t find there is the motivation for this honourable endeavour. That is what follows in this fascinating interview, conducted in Johannesburg last week when I spent half an hour with them in a very public place, hearing the back story. What follows is a fascinating account of Trent’s unlawful arrest and weekend in a maggot-infested cell – and O’Sullivan’s determination to press on despite numerous attempts on his life. If ever there were a cause worthy of support by those tiring of the way corruption has white-anted SA’s young democracy, surely this is it. – Alec Hogg

I’m with Sarah-Jane Trent, who works with Paul O’ Sullivan and you’ve just launched a website called Forensics for Justice, another NGO, and another attempt to rectify South Africa. But just going back into your background, when I met with Paul in London, his offices got raided, and you happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time…..

Yes, exactly. It was actually the day of the stay away on the 7th of April. They just rocked up and they wanted to mirror image everything in the office.

Who are they?

Oh, the Mabula Team, the guys that arrested Paul O’ Sullivan and myself in February. I was kidnapped on the 10th of February and then Paul, unlawfully arrested in contravention of a court order on the Monday. Paul O’ Sullivan is a complainant in a very serious criminal docket against the now suspended Acting Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Khomotso Phahlane. He then got this Mabula Team, the same guys that arrested General Booysen, the same guy that arrested Gerrie Nel when he was prosecuting Jackie Selebi, the same guy who’s involved with Breytenbach’s arrest and the list goes on. I call them the Fixers. These guys come along and they’ve been involved in torture and murder of suspects in custody and all that kind of thing, so those are the guys that arrested us.

They sound like dirty cops.

Oh, no even – they’re criminals with badges….

They arrived at your offices, Paul wasn’t there, you were there, not many of the staff around?

Yes, it as myself and the PA and yes and then we had our attorney come. They wanted to mirror image everything, but obviously you can’t do that. We have a lot of very highly confidential information and client files that we obviously will never allow anyone to have access to and so we didn’t. I think they left with four documents or something like that on a USB stick that was attached to a keyring. It wasn’t sealed in an evidence bag. It was pretty much a fishing expedition and an unlawful search. They had no interest in – they wanted Paul’s computer. They obviously didn’t read their fax the night before where Paul informed them that he was leaving the country and Sally de Beer makes a statement that Paul fled the country. You know, it’s just an absolute joke on what’s going on.

Was it an intimidatory raid, did you feel?

I don’t think that they meant to – it wasn’t to intimidate. I think that they were on a fishing expedition, they wanted information. I don’t think that they had enough evidence to support a J50, arrest warrants for myself and Paul O’ Sullivan. They haven’t even finished the investigation and if you’re going to arrest, you don’t arrest someone to investigate, you investigate to arrest. Now they want until October this year to continue investigating when we’ve been arrested in February, so what are they actually – what is the evidence that they have used. They can’t prove their case so that was what the raid was and then one day I read in the news that they want to IPID’s offices.

Sarah-Jane Trent and Paul O'Sullivan. (Alec Hogg).
Sarah-Jane Trent and Paul O’Sullivan. (Alec Hogg).

But take us back to February because you mentioned earlier that you were kidnapped.

So Friday afternoon Paul and I are in the boardroom finishing up on the week’s work and a police car comes and rings on the bell and says, “Is this your car?” and Paul had already sold it, said, “Oh, I’ll find out who bought it” because it was apparently in a hit and run accident or whatever”. So while Paul’s on the phone to the dealer, she just gets in the car and drives away.

Paul immediately pushes the garage button, gets in the car and as he’s driving out the whole troop of cars come racing down and he gets away. Now Paul was justified by driving away from them and avoiding arrest because he has a High Court order where they cannot arrest him without giving him 48 hours’ notice and before even deciding to charge him, a prosecutor, the NPA must review any decision to prosecute, then can they say, “Okay, well now we can give an arrest warrant”.

Let’s just understand this, Sarah-Jane, this lady cop who arrived there was just to make sure that Paul was on the premises?

So, an Officer Dawood, he’s part of this Mabula Team, a very dangerous man indeed, had lied to this cop and said, “Find out if this man’s home”. Paul drives off, speeds off and I just hear like this police siren and I go around the corner to look and then this guy comes under the garage door shouting and screaming and doesn’t show me my arrest warrant, doesn’t give me a copy, doesn’t tell me anything. They take my phone and then obviously I’ve never been arrested and I don’t represent anybody, you know, I don’t do criminal law, so I’m going, “Oh, can I bring my cell phone charger” you know and okay they like, “You’re not going to need your phone”. They had no intention of allowing me to call anyone.

SAPS, Police

So we’re standing outside and there are rifles and police and all kinds, you know it was – we’ve got the CCTV footage if anyone wants to see it. It’s quite dramatic and while we’re waiting to decide what car I’m driving in or whatever, I say to one of the ladies that’s holding my phone, “You know what, if I don’t need my phone, I might as well just put it in the boot of my car” and she goes, “Ja, no problem”. So she puts my phone in the boot of my car. We then get to this petrol station on Marlboro Drive. I am now officially terrified because they must take you straight to a police station, now what are these people doing taking me to a petrol station. They realise now they don’t have the phone, they took me to the petrol station because they needed to download my phone in the boot of a car, that’s what they needed to do.

So, anyway, I was then obviously intimidated and forced to go back to the office to get the phone. I asked several times, “Can I see my arrest warrant to see whether you can lawfully do a search and seizure?” You’re only allowed on arrest, if I’m not mistaken, you’re only allowed to take what’s on the person and you book it in, so when you get released, unless you have a warrant for the phone and to download it. Alternatively, if in the event that you were to apply for a warrant, then a magistrate would grant it.

Which they never did. They didn’t even put it in an evidence bag and then when we got to the police station, so they could see who was phoning me, they could read all my messages. I had 60 missed calls by the time we got back to the office to get my phone. So I’d been away for a while and then some guy from the, I don’t know cell phone, whatever comes and he says to me, “What’s your pin code?” So I said, “Will I be obstructing justice if I don’t give you my code?” and so he says, “Yes”, but he shrugs his shoulders.

Obviously, I’m like, you’re lying to me, why are you lying? I want my lawyer. I don’t know whether you’re allowed to have it or not and I also don’t want to be charged with defeating the ends of justice, you know. Anyway, so he says, “Well, either way we’re getting the information, but you’ll never see our phone again because we’re going to send it to Dubai and America” and what, what, what. Oh, I don’t know. So it was theft of the cell phone .I don’t think that they ever applied post factum for the warrant. But I have no doubt that they have an illegal copy of my phone.

What happened then, did they let you go after they had your phone?

No, I was – then my attorney came. They let me see him for five minutes and then they said, no, that they must go because he didn’t have like some attorney card. They knew he was my attorney, but they were beings sticklers for the rule. So he went out and bought me some toiletries and that and then yes, they started working on an urgent application to have me released, not on bail, but in terms of habeas corpus, it’s release the body. You know, you have a right to freedom in the Constitutional Right to Freedom. Then I get into the prison cell, not allowed to smoke in there, it’s all, you know, the toilet has one of the blankets inside the toilet, there’s old food in the basin with maggots coming out and they’ve got to keep this light on in the cells, they don’t turn it off and then when it’s dark you lie on the floor.

Oh, there are no beds, you lie on the floor and you can just see the luminescent maggots on the floor. So I then say, “Excuse me, excuse me, I need the loo and then they say to me, “There’s a loo in there”. So I say, “I’m not using this loo, this is against my constitutional right, I’ve got to go to the staff loos”.  I’m lying there and a man just walks into the cell. Now you’ve heard the horror stories right, but he was actually coming to say, “Oh, you know why isn’t this cell clean” or whatever, but I mean, he doesn’t announce himself to me. I’m alone in the cell, I’m a female and a male comes into the cell alone with a torch and you know, the fear.

So anyway, then the next day a friend of mine went to the police station and they were told to deny that I was there. So he said, “Well, Sarah-Jane Trent is either here or she’s lost in police custody” and they said, “Okay fine well, you can see her for ten minutes” and then my uncle comes to see me and they give him a whole load of hogwash about they need proof that he’s my family and what, what, what, so 12:30 (visiting hours are from 12:00 to 13:00) I asked one of the guards what’s the time and he told me it’s 12:30 and I broke down, I absolutely broke down. I was like, “Does no one care that I’m like in prison?”, but actually no one knew that I was there and no one was allowed to come in and then they didn’t allow my attorney to see me the whole day. I saw my attorney at about 18:30, 19:00 at night on the Saturday.

How long did you stay locked up for?

Okay, so I think I was locked up 20:30 at night on the Friday and I was released at 21:00 on Sunday night after a huge High Court application to release me.

So you’re an attorney, you can get a job in a very safe industry, you are working with Paul O’ Sullivan, you get arrested on who knows what charge and now are taking the fight back to the bad guys with Forensics for Justice. It sounds a bit whacky to me. Where does this drive come from?

I think, my whole life I’ve been very lucky to be surrounded by incredible people who have done a lot for the community, for society and they’ve also inspired me in some way. I think, for me, I don’t know, I was born to do this kind of thing. I’m a fighter; I want to be part of something like this. I think, you know, family members of mine were very much involved in the struggle and you know, the stories and the enthusiasm and that passion, I think has inspired me to do something like this and I’ve just looked for it and I’ve found it here.

And you’ve found lots of fertile ground to apply your mind towards.

Oh yes, no it’s great.

Now you said earlier that you get a lot of tipoffs, a lot of people coming to Paul O’ Sullivan & Associates and you aren’t able to look at all the cases. Is that a question of resources?

Absolutely, you know we have people who, because of corruption, I can’t tell you, it’s from every single sector to everything, and we can help. We do not have the financial resources to help and we can really, we can make it. We’ve got everything at our fingertips, but we do not have the financial resources.

You’ve now decided to crowdsource it, crowdfund it.

Yes, exactly so that that we can help these people. You know, I mean, we’ve got police officers who, because they refuse to take unlawful instructions from corrupt police officers who are their seniors, they get sued for defamation, they get suspended, they get their lives threatened, their families’ lives are threatened. Who do they come to? Paul and Paul protects them and he goes, Paul and I get arrested and we fight and we go and we find people that can help and we do what we can, but we can’t, yes, it’s – sorry I’m very passionate.

No, you need a little bit of support, you need financial support to do that, but give me a dream. Let’s say 100 000 people in South Africa decide they want to come behind you, they would like to give you millions and millions of Rands and money and resources no longer are a problem, what would you guys do then?

Shoo, we would be able to then – geez like, Paul do you want to…?

What would you do, Paul, I that case?

If Forensics for Justice had millions to now, what would we do?

Well, I mean our investigations are limited by the amount of time and energy and resources we can put into it, so if I had unlimited funds, I would open up these investigations further. A lot of people ask me to do investigations that I just can’t do because I haven’t got the money. We had, for example, a meeting with somebody recently where he wants me to investigate all the political murders in Mpumalanga and I said to him, “But who’s going to pay me?” He said, “Well, I don’t know, can’t you do it, you know, like you do these other cases?” and I said, “Well, the problem with the other cases is that, you know, I just don’t have the resources. I can’t keep doing these investigations”. Now the problem with the political killings in Mpumalanga is the police are neutralised.

The police are not doing anything about it because the people that are carrying out the killings have got the cops on their payroll. So, really if we’re going to change South Africa for the better, we have to get to the bottom of all the corruption in criminal justice system and if I had more capital and more resources, I would engage a few people to assist me because I’m doing all the work on my own with Sarah-Jane and there’s only so many hours in a day. I’d like to have a few other employees working with me, where we can task them what to do. If you go on our website, you’ll see the quality of our dockets, it’s top quality. So we’ll put together more top quality dockets and we’ll start making a difference in the country.

So, at this point in time it’s you and Sarah-Jane and the PA and a few people who have done an enormous amount of work, much of it pro bono. Who’s paid for all of this, Paul?

Well, I’ve had to pay for it myself, Alec. Last year alone, I think I spent R4mn and you know, I think my children are starting to get worried now because I have seven of them and I think they’re starting to realise that daddy’s running out of money.

What’s your dream on this, how big an organisation could you put together if South Africa were to fully support you in the way that – just dream big, how big could it be?

You know, the thing is, if it gets too big it becomes clumsy and I like to manage every investigation. I like to have my finger in every pie and if it becomes too big you don’t have your finger in the pie. So, I don’t think I’d like to have more than ten or fifteen people, where we, instead of using a shotgun approach, we use a snipers rifle approach and we select our targets carefully and we go for them and then, as you know, we’ve tied up with AfriForum, so if the State decides they don’t want to prosecute these outright criminals that we’re identifying, we sit down with AfriForum, we say, “Okay, here’s a good one that’s ripe for prosecution, let’s do it” and we’ve already identified one or two that we’re looking at and in principle, these people will be prosecuted if the State doesn’t come to the party.

Now everyone needs a prospectus, Sarah-Jane and as far as your prospectus is concerned it’s on the internet…..

It’s, it’s a highly secured site, and there is also the ability to give anonymous tipoffs. Your anonymity is very important to us and the server’s in a bunker somewhere in a mountain (won’t say where), just to protect our rights to publish public interest information. The information that we have is important for the people to see.

So far you have the investigation into Jackie Selebi that many people remember where Paul really came to the public consciousness, the Czech criminal, Krejcir, what about more recent investigations?

Crikey. What we’re doing is, we don’t want to put everything onto this website immediately. So every week or two weeks we’re going to just start feeding the site with more and more. Our most recent one is Dudu Myeni. Now it’s quite a long story, but basically it started off with Dudu Myeni trying to unlawfully get bank statements and phone records of other directors at SAA because she was being stopped from you know, raping and pillaging SAA many years ago. So, they went to Paul O’ Sullivan to find out if he could and he turned them away, obviously because that’s unlawful. Then that sort of carried on and then there was a docket opened against Myeni – you can read it on the website, it’s thrilling reading. That docket was uplifted and sort of, you could say is now in a corner in someone’s office or burnt.

SAA chairwoman Dudu Myeni

Another docket was opened on this airbus business and then when Paul was dragged off the plan in April last year, he was told that he’d upset Dudu Myeni quite badly and then she opened a case against Paul, now the criminal cases against Dudu Myeni on prima facie, 100% prosecutable cases. Now Paul is now being prosecuted on a fake trumped up case by Dudu Myeni on some, I don’t even know what charge. They cannot prove their case. We’ve given the NPA written representations with all our evidence proving the innocence. They haven’t even read it. We’ve sent it to them, I think at least three times. They’re not prepared for trial and guess what, Dudu Myeni, as the complainant needs to come to court and she needs to testify. Now I highly doubt she’s going to want to say anything under oath.

A bit like the Guptas no doubt. But Paul, from your perspective we’re seeing this momentum shift away from the bad guys, we’re seeing a lot of cases being brought including those that you’re involved with. Isn’t this a dangerous time for whistle blowers, for those who are fighting on the side of trying to eliminate corruption in South Africa?

Well, I mean you talk about danger. I’ve been arrested twice in the year, I’ve had my offices raided, I think two or three times and they took my passports, they tried to stop me from leaving my country, they’ve brought fake cases against me, weird and wonderful cases where the people who are the so-called complainants in the cases, without exception are all criminals and the prosecutor himself was a prosecutor who was struck off the roll of attorneys in the year 2000, who reinstated in the year 2005 as an attorney, never practiced as an attorney. His wife was struck off in the year 2005, they share the law firm, his wife was struck off for stealing from client trust accounts, and that same prosecutor is the prosecutor in all my cases.

Coincidentally, he’s the prosecutor against general Booysen on the so-called Cato Manor death squad story, which is another rubbish story. Coincidentally he was the prosecutor against McBride and Dramat. Coincidentally also the prosecutor against Breytenbach, so you have this situation where he’s a political appointee, he’s doing what he’s told to do by somebody, which includes charging people with fake charges on fake cases put together by criminal cops and criminals and I mean, that’s the only danger I face. I’m not worried about my personal safety. If any of these people want to try anything, you know they’re welcome to come and have a bash.

Robert McBride. Photo courtesy of Twitter (@Radio702)

But you’ve been shot before, certainly not by these bad guys, but that can’t be a pleasant experience.

I’ve been shot three times in South Africa and twice in other parts of Africa and I’ve been blown up in a landmine. So, when your time is up, your time is up and God obviously has work for me to do on this planet and I’ll continue doing that work until otherwise is indicated.  But in South Africa I’ve been shot at a lot of times and fortunately, they’ve missed. Last year there were two attempts on my life. I set it up to catch the person that was behind one of the attempts and the police deliberately bungled the attempt to catch him and I believe they did that because the link would have gone back to somebody high up in the police.

Paul, what’s next for you, what is your message to fellow South Africans who are having a look at this Forensics for Justice website now and saying, “I can’t leave this guy exposed all on his own, I need to support him”?

Well, all I’m saying is, I put my life on the line on a daily basis. You know, if you travel with me around you’ll see the precautions I have to take to protect myself and my staff do the same. Now we’re not asking the public to come and risk their lives with us, but they have to accept that we are risking our lives on a daily basis. We’re also taking a lot of flak with fake charges and being arrested by dirty cops and criminals. I mean, these cops who arrested us, they’re facing charges of murder and torture. I mean, you know they shouldn’t even be in the police. My message is, support us in any way you can, whether it’s writing to your MP and complaining about corruption, which I think should be done.

Whether it’s when you hear bad things being said about me, because these people have also got their spin doctors out there, you know. I’ve been accused by Edward Zuma. Edward Zuma went on the radio show one night and said that I’m the master of white minority capital. Well, I wish I was because if he saw my bank statements he’d realise I’m not. But he went on to say that I’m running white monopoly capital and I should be arrested and deported back to Ireland and you know, when you have a president’s son making statements like that, the future of the country doesn’t look too good. But I’m very adamant that the future of this country does look good and the reason it looks good is because good people always win in the end.

The truth is more powerful than anything else, but what makes you confident that it will prevail?

Probably, it’s my Irish nature. I never give in. So the only way they’ll stop me is to kill me and I don’t think they’re going to try that now because it’ll be pretty obvious where it’s coming from. And to be frank with you, in the last few months we’ve turned the corner. I stated quite categorically, two years ago that I would take down Phahlane and I would take down Ntlemeza and I would take down the then Minister of Police, Nhleko. Well, all three of them are out of their positions now. Phahlane is awaiting criminal charges, Ntlemeza is awaiting criminal charges. They’re both sitting at home. Neither of them have their badge and gun, so you know, I think now we’re turning the corner and the tide will turn against them. What I need to do now is keep the traction going.

I need petrol in the tank and that petrol has to come in the form of the 50-million South Africans out there in the world who support what I’m doing. Go onto our website, we’re shortly going to have a PayPal feature where you’ll be able to pay with credit cards from anywhere in the world and also our bank details are there. If you want invoices, we’ll give you one. If you want to be anonymous, you can be anonymous, but in order to beat these people and win the war that we’re fighting, we need resources and we only can get those resources if the public stand behind us.

Do you take inspiration from what happened in Brazil with Operation Car Wash?

You know, I think we have a South African problem and we have to solve it in a South African way. We’re not in South America, we’re in South Africa, and good luck to the people in Brazil. I haven’t even taken notice of what happened there. Why? Because I’m focused on what’s going on in South Africa, so I think we need to have a South African solution and the solution has to be – I see the number of people coming through my door asking for help and I can tell you now, without a doubt, 99% of them are African people, black African people, sons of the soil of this land and they come to me because they need help.

They don’t go to a black firm, they come to me and they come to me because they know that I’m fearless, that my ethics are high, that I won’t sell them out and I think many people in the country, they can turn around and put money into the kitty. We’re going to recruit some more trustees for the organisation, people of colour, so that we can say, “Okay, we have a representative board of trustees” and then we’re going to say, “We’re going to cherry pick the cases” We want to work on cases that will make a difference in the lives of all South Africans and that’s what the future will hold.

Paul O’ Sullivan, Sarah-Jane Trent, thanks it’s been a pleasure meeting with you and that website, just give us the URL again.

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