JOHANNESBURG — Forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan has emerged as a key figure fighting corruption in South Africa’s justice and criminal system. After providing key evidence that put the likes of Jackie Selebi and Radovan Krejcir behind bars, he has pushed on, often coming under pressure himself from seemingly crooked law-enforcement agencies. O’Sullivan, therefore, has an intimate knowledge of the system, including its strong points and flaws. And amid the latest dramas surrounding the Guptas enforcing surveillance on key business people and even journalists like Business Day Editor at Large Peter Bruce (whose movements were tracked and posted on a fake news website linked to the Guptas), we decided to pick O’Sullivan’s brain on these recent sagas. What follows is an interesting discussion on the nature of surveillance in South Africa, both of the legal and illegal kind… – Gareth van Zyl
Paul, thanks for chatting to me today. Amid the Gupta email leaks, the issue of spying has come to the fore. It was revealed in the Sunday papers that the likes of Trevor Manuel and several bank bosses have, basically, had their sensitive border travel details revealed to the Guptas. Now obviously, this kind of information is only meant for government, so how do people like the Guptas get their hands on this?
Yes, well there’s a number of ways one can do that but generally speaking, it would help entering into a corrupt relationship with people that have access to data. Now, by using the word ‘spying’ we have to be careful because whilst it’s clearly offenses being committed, the offences would not amount to spying. Spying is very clearly defined as when you take information of a country, particularly the vulnerabilities and threats of a country, for example weaknesses in the ex-military installations and stuff like that and then pass it onto a foreign government, so it can be used to perhaps undermine that country. I don’t think, in the true sense of the word, that’s what’s going on here, which would amount to the offense of treason as well.
What we have here is we have private information of individuals, which includes their movements over borders. Now, when you go in and out of South Africa, if you go, for example, through OR Tambo you have to show your boarding card and your passport at the same time, and the guy at the immigration desk enters the flight number on the system, and then he stamps your passport.
So, that information is captured on the Home Affairs database, which is called the MCS (Movement Control System). Now, only Immigration Officers and specified Police Officials have access to the MCS and the Police Officials would be what we call Border Police, police officials who are working at border posts. So, either a corrupt police official or a corrupt Home Affairs Officer has given access to the system, so that private information can be downloaded. Now, that’s a criminal offence in terms of the Home Affairs Regulations. It’s also a criminal offence because it’s a breach of privacy and it’s impossible to think that anybody would risk losing their job without some form of monetary payment. So, we probably have a corrupt act taking place there as well.
It just seems insane that the police are seemingly not onto this yet. Clearly there’s been a criminal breach here, right?
Yes, it’s not a case of the police are not onto this. I’ve made the point, in fact, even as late as this week I’ve been in discussion with the General in the Hawks, and the discussions have been rotating around the so-called Gupta leaks. Now, as you’re aware that a couple of hundred thousand emails, which have spirited themselves away from a server somewhere and have found themselves in the hands of journalists.
So, the information you’ve just been talking about is included in one of those Gupta emails, so I believe that there was an email sent with a spreadsheet on it setting out who travelled where and when. Now, somebody would have to go the Police Station, open a docket in order for the police to start an investigation. There has to be a complainant and you can’t go to the Police Station and open a docket with a newspaper cutting. You have to have something a little bit more tangible than that. Now, I’ve spoken to a number of the journalists that are in possession or have access to the so-called Gupta leaked emails, and I’ve requested certain emails, and I’ve named the emails that I’m interested in, which clearly show prima facie corruption and I’ve asked it to be made available in a forensically verifiable format, some of those emails. The journalists have said that at this moment in time they’re not going to be made available to anybody other than a certain pool of journalists, and that at some time in the future they will be made available to law enforcement. I find that a bit distracting because it means probably, and it’s right that the story should be out there, but it’s also right that if this evidence exists it should be placed in the hands of people that can do something with it. If I was in possession of some these emails, in a forensically verifiable format, I would be able to able to go and open criminal cases and prove to the police. For example, a lot of people don’t understand this but when you send or receive an email the email contains hidden data, which the person looking at the email can’t see, and we call that a metadata. Now, that metadata can be analysed with special software where we can obtain information right down to things like the type of computer the email was typed on. And it will tell you where the person was when the email was sent, so that information is available and it’s only available if you have the email given to you in a forensically, verifiable format, and that doesn’t mean that somebody must forward you the email because the minute that email is forwarded it loses all of its metadata. The metadata can only be taken off the email if the email is put onto another memory device and handed over in that way or transmitted in a way where the metadata is preserved. Until that process starts happening unfortunately we’re not going to see any arrests or any prosecutions or even any investigations because the police… It’s trite that the police will not carry out an investigation on a newspaper cutting.
Is it the case that journalists are; ironically, an obstruction to justice here, to a certain extent, by not putting these emails out there?
Well, I think what they’re doing and I don’t blame them for it, I mean they’re journalists at the end of the day and they’ve got a job and their job is to inform and advise the public as to what’s been going on. I think we have a situation where these emails do provide riveting front-page stories and lots of, what journalists would call ‘sexy stories.’ Stories which not only show the inner-workings of the Gupta family and their corrupt relationships with Government Officials, including the President and his family but, also shows you how the country is almost put on its knees by this level of corruption and I think the journalists probably want to exploit the news value of the emails as much as possible and I really do hope, because I’ve voiced this to them, I really do hope that within the next week or two they’re going to start making these emails available to people that can do something with them. It’s no good just handing them over to the police because the police have to have a complainant, and I run an operation, we have another, as you know, we call it Forensics for Justice. Forensics for Justice is a MPC, which was launched only this week. In fact, it was launched on BizNews and I’m very grateful that they did that because we’ve had a lot of support. Now, we’re going to see a situation where Forensics for Justice, and I don’t want 250.000 emails. I want 5 or 6 emails, which literally have prima facie evidence, which I can take those emails and say, ‘there you are now we have solid proof.’ I’d keep that email in a forensically verifiable format, make another copy, which I then analyse and then I produce a report and I say, ‘there now let’s see some prosecutions.’
Why do you think journalists aren’t handing these emails over to people like you then? Surely, it makes sense to do that. I guess it would even better if they just put it on a WikiLeaks-style site, isn’t it, for relevant people to download?
If you put it on a WikiLeaks’ type of site (the thing) is they wouldn’t be put there in a format that you can forensically verify the metadata. So, they have to be given in such a format, if they’re not then they’re worthless because they could be hearsay. And the rules of evidence in a court trial – you couldn’t use them as evidence. So, I’m not saying the journalists have refused. The journalist in question has said, “Paul, yes, we do want to but not right now. We want to let the dust settle. We want there to be a custodian of these emails and that person will be the person that hands them over.” So, we’ve got a bit of a process to go through but I’m really keen to get my hands on some of the more startling of those emails, so that we can start the criminal investigations.
It would be better if that source of the emails actually approached you and gave you these emails, isn’t it rather than getting it second-hand?
Well, I’d certainly be happy if the source gave the emails to me but it doesn’t matter who gives the emails to me, as long as I get them in a forensically verifiable format because at the end of the day that’s what it all about.
Just to get back to this whole topic of surveillance I guess. We’ve seen today in Business Day that Peter Bruce, the editor at large there, has written this piece in which he hits back at the Guptas for snooping on him. There were photos of Peter that appeared on this white monopoly capital website and a fake news piece, and Peter has basically, now threatened legal action. They found out that the owner behind that WMC site is connected to the Guptas. Do you think that the Guptas are using potential state surveillance apparatus here or are they using private investigators? What’s your view around that, in terms of this particular situation in that piece?
I’ve been on that white monopoly capital website. In fact, I’m surprised that my picture hasn’t appeared there with a woman in my arms or something like that because it’s nothing more than a seedy, highly defamatory website. It vilifies people and it creates fake news and it’s clearly the work of some criminals and those criminals need to be brought to book. Not just civilly, they need to be charged criminally with what they’re doing because they’re now crimen injuria in a lot of those case. Now, if there’s a war being fought and the war that’s being fought is for the future of this country, because the Zuptas will either win or they will lose, and if they win this country is finished.
The response to my column this morning. Outside my house…. pic.twitter.com/trERmxo5DQ
— Peter Bruce (@Bruceps) June 29, 2017
So the war has to be won and fortunately for South Africa, there’s enough good people, like Peter Bruce, like others who have been named and shamed on that website. I was shocked to see even prominent businessmen, people that create jobs in the country, being named and shamed on that website and it’s shocking what they’re doing. At the end of the day I think that fight is coming to them but these people are cowards because the person who is responsible for maintaining that website is sitting on a computer somewhere in India. Now, I can tell you bringing a civil claim against the person in India, from South Africa, is an extremely costly exercise. You have to go through what they call the edictal citations where documents have to be served from afar and guess what? We’ll probably find that the person who’s doing all this, that’s sitting on that computer doesn’t have a cent to his name anyway. Then you’ve got to prove that he’s doing it for the Guptas.
So, he could get away with it?
Look, the best way to get these sites taken down is to go to the authority that manages the ownership of the sites, and this is what companies like Mcdonald’s, you know well known brands, they do it all the time. So, they see websites, for example, Rolex watches, they see websites where people are selling fake Rolex watches and the people from the real Rolex, they will go to the web authorities, depending which country that site’s domain is in. Now, I haven’t done that exercise but it’s simple. You just do a WhoIs and then you type in the web address, and I think it appeared in one of the news articles as to who is owning it. But more importantly there’s a domain owner and the domain owner you can just get the domain taken down. It’s a process, it could take a couple of weeks, but I would think Peter Bruce’s money would be much better spent having the website taken down.
Interesting, and obviously you’ve been in the spotlight with your investigations of various Police Commissioners over the years. Have you ever felt that people are maybe tracking you as well and putting surveillance on you?
They are listening in to you and I speaking right now. Our conversation it’s you and me, and when it goes on your website the rest of the world can listen to it. But right now, there’s somebody sitting in a secret room somewhere listening to you and I talking. I know and I can tell you this, those people are criminals and their day is coming.
And how do ordinary South Africans protect themselves from this type of thing? Can we protect ourselves from this?
No, you can’t because the Act that deals with this type of thing is archaic. You see, there would be a case where it is necessary to intercept people’s’ communications. For example, if you have an Al-Qaeda cell operating in South Africa, you would want to, with intelligence you gather, you would want to gather more intelligence, so you bring an application to a specified Judge. There’s a particular Judge that deals with these applications and you would set down your case as to how and why you need to intercept those phone numbers, and then you’ll go ahead and do it, you’ll intercept those numbers and you sit and listen, and then you gather intelligence, and that’s what the intelligence entities do. But unfortunately, in the last 10-years, the intelligence entities in this country have been bastardised by politics and corruption and they’re now used for things like spying on people, like spying on journalists, like spying on competitors, and stuff like that. It’s all being used for the wrong reasons and it’s insufficient transparency around it, so you have the situation, where I know my phones are being tapped on a regular basis but I can’t prove it because the law doesn’t allow me to see the Court Order that was obtained to tap my phone. I can give you a classic example of how these things can happen and then it will come to your attention later. In 2011, when I was mounting some serious operations to bringing Radovan Krejcir to book. I got a phone call from a guy one day and he told me that he had a meeting with Radovan Krejcir and the Colonel across the road from Bedfordview Police Station in a coffee shop, and Radovan Krejcir was sitting there with all my phone records. So, I made some enquiries at Vodacom and I found corrupt police officials had made an application for and obtained a Section 205 in the Criminal Procedures Act subpoenas on my telephone number at Vodacom, for the month of April, May, and June 2011. They used case numbers of, for example, I think there was an armed robbery in Thokoza. Now, it was clear that Paul O’Sullivan wasn’t involved in an armed robbery in Thokoza, but they used the case number for that to apply for the 205 subpoenas and get them and then get my phone records, and then my phone records handed over to criminals.
Do you think that if Zuma had to go and a lot of the Zuptas had to go, that that would help to start rooting out this type of problem? How deeply entrenched is this problem?
No, it’s badly entrenched and it’s a serious problem for the Constitutional Rights of good South Africans but you know, the country is sick at the moment and the cancer has to be cut out before we can start the road to recovery and there’s no doubt in my mind whatsoever that while you’ve got corrupt police officials, at the rank of Generals, and corrupt Prosecutors, Senior Advocates, at high ranking International Prosecuting Authority and to give you a classic example, and I’ve mentioned it before. Look at all the fake charges that were brought against Gordhan? Has anybody paid for that… No. Why… because the political masters are still protecting them.
Paul, it’s been an absolute pleasure talking to you today. Thank you very much for chatting to us at BizNews again.
No, it’s only a pleasure and once again, I really want to thank all the supporters of Forensics for Justice and remind them all www.forensicsforjustice.org and we now have a PayPal facility on that website if anybody wants to support us.
Great, thanks. We’ll put a link into your site again.
Alright, thanks Paul, cheers. Keep well.