In a story that ranks among the most extraordinary covered by BizNews, Springbok Rugby World Cup 1995 champion and pharmacy group proprietor Hannes Strydom took a massive gamble when hiring renowned forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan. Strydom sought to establish his innocence amidst serious allegations broadcast by M-Net’s investigative programme Carte Blanche. Following an extensive investigation, with O’Sullivan’s backing, Strydom asserted his innocence in an as live interview with BizNews editor Alec Hogg. Strydom, who reported a loss of R50 million, attributed his misfortune to a purported internal criminal ring, which he claimed had also misled the team at Carte Blanche. However, the situation took a dramatic turn when O’Sullivan discontinued his services a month into the investigation due to unsatisfactory responses from Strydom. Two days thereafter, Strydom passed away in a car accident. In this revealing interview, Carte Blanche producer Nicky Troll offers her perspective: she suggests that it was actually O’Sullivan who was misled by Strydom, whom she implicates as the mastermind behind an illegal codeine distribution network. O’Sullivan, citing his devout Catholic beliefs which discourage speaking negatively of the deceased, has declined to comment on Strydom. – Alec Hogg
Sign up for your early morning brew of the BizNews Insider to keep you up to speed with the content that matters. The newsletter will land in your inbox at 5:30am weekdays. Register here.
00:08 – Introduction and Water Shifting
03:05 – Nicky Troll on the allegations against Hannes Strydom
06:33 – Focus on transgressions after Moutton left
07:59 – Illegal sales to the black market & Hannes Strydom involvement
10:09 – Codeine Addiction and Public Interest
15:22 – Verification Process of Carte Blanche
19:43 – Different Time Periods of Investigations
21:51 – Conclusion and Reflections
Edited transcript of the interview between Alec Hogg and Nicky Troll
Alec Hogg: In this episode of UNDICTATED we delve into a remarkable story. Hannes Strydom who appeared on BizNews TV in October, made some extraordinary allegations. Now, it appears that things are not as they initially seemed. To recap briefly before we welcome Nicky Troll, the producer of the Carte Blanche segment on Hannes Strydom: it’s a pleasure to have Nicky join us today. Hannes Strydom, known for being part of the Springbok Rugby World Cup-winning team in 1995, played 21 tests for the Springboks and is something of a legend. Beyond his rugby career, he was also a chemist and ran a substantial pharmaceutical business with 350 employees. I was unaware of his situation until Paul O’Sullivan brought to my attention a significant issue. According to him, Hannes Strydom had been defrauded of R50 million by a criminal syndicate operating within his company. We knew we had to speak to both of them.
So, in October, we conducted an interview. The revelations were startling, to say the least. The crux of their claim was that a criminal syndicate within Hannes Strydom’s company had influenced Carte Blanche to adopt their perspective in a story, portraying Hannes as a victim. Things took an even stranger turn a month later. On a Friday afternoon, Paul O’Sullivan terminated his association with Hannes Strydom. Then, on the following Sunday evening, Hannes Strydom was involved in a fatal car accident, leaving many questions unanswered.
Since then, things have been relatively quiet. Paul, citing his reluctance to speak ill of the deceased, a principle stemming from his Catholic faith, has refrained from further comment. This leaves us with many unresolved aspects of the story. However, turning to Nicky Troll from Carte Blanche, I previously mentioned to John Webb, your executive producer, that there must be more to this story. It’s unusual for Carte Blanche to make such an oversight. John assured me that they would share more information when possible, as advised by their legal team. Now, here we are, facing one of the most bizarre stories I’ve encountered.
Nicky Troll: When we began our investigation, the story’s direction was clear to us. We believe our report broke down the issues thoroughly. Anyone who watched the entire segment could grasp the core issues and the focus of our investigation. We stand firmly by our findings. I want to emphasize that we have no qualms with Mr. O’Sullivan. In fact, I sympathize with him as it appears he might have been misled.
Concerning the subsequent developments after our initial investigation, you mentioned allegations that we were misled by criminal syndicates. It raises the question: how would anyone know who we spoke to, apart from those featured on camera? It’s a significant accusation to make without solid grounds. So, we maintain our stance on the investigation. It actually began in February when a source contacted me. I had previously reported on fraudulent vaccination certificates involving one of Mr. Strydom’s pharmacies, so my contacts knew of my familiarity with the pharmacy sector. This story reached me independently.
To clarify, while we were aware of certain aspects of Mr. Strydom’s personal life since February, we chose not to report on them. Our focus is on factual reporting, not sensationalism. When I first received the information, some of it dated back to 2017. I immediately noted its age, making it less relevant for a current story. To proceed, I needed to verify that the issues we were addressing were ongoing, which I did.
In our story, we clearly highlighted that our investigation centred on possible misconduct or irregularities from mid-2022 to August 2023. This was mentioned several times in the report, but it seems this detail was overlooked in your interview. At least three times, we clarified the time frame, yet it seems to have been missed by many.
We didn’t deny the criminal elements involved. We interviewed Mr. Mouton, identified by Mr. O’Sullivan and Mr. Strydom as a key figure in their allegations. Our investigation’s focus was on the period after his departure, suggesting he couldn’t have been responsible for issues during that time. Despite emphasizing this, it appears this point was not widely understood.
Alec Hogg: Let’s pause there for a moment. So, what was being conveyed to us was that Strydom was the innocent party and that Moutton was the culprit. However, you’re saying Moutton wasn’t even employed there when these issues occurred.
Nicky Troll: Mouton was employed there, and during his tenure, there were indeed issues, which he didn’t deny in our piece. But our focus was on the period after his departure. This crucial point wasn’t mentioned in the interview you conducted, and it seems to have been omitted. Our investigation was concentrated on events after Moutton left, raising the question of how our narrative could be influenced if we were reporting on a timeframe he wasn’t part of.
Alec Hogg: I understand. But for those who haven’t seen the Carte Blanche segment, could you clarify what Hannes Strydom was involved in?
Nicky Troll: The allegations centered around his pharmacy group and wholesale division, suggesting they were illegally selling codeine cough syrup products to the black market instead of legitimate pharmacies, and in larger quantities than permissible. Our focus was on determining the validity of these allegations, specifically whether illicit sales of codeine were being made to the black market.
Alec Hogg: It seems undisputed that such activities were occurring. Even the interview with O’Sullivan and Strydom didn’t contest this. The contention, however, lies in Strydom’s involvement, which is where the divergence in perspectives occurs.
Nicky Troll: This is precisely why it’s crucial to recognize that our story focused on the period from mid-2022 to August 2023, when Mr. Strydom was the principal figure. One key aspect we explored was illegal bulk sales through Sunnyside Pharmacy’s cash transactions. During this time, Mr. Strydom was the officially registered pharmacist for that pharmacy, a fact we highlighted in our story but seemed to be overlooked in that interview.
The cash sales we investigated, particularly in July 2023, followed the entry of forensic investigators into the scenario. We found multiple cash slips evidencing bulk sales, which we presented.
Nicky Troll: It’s challenging to demonstrate here, but they were shown on screen. For anyone revisiting the Cough Lounge story, there were sales of 1,020 bottles, 500 bottles, and 80 bottles. All these transactions are illegal. Under Schedule 2 medication regulations, the limit is 100 vials every five days per person. Selling even two bottles is a breach of the law, let alone a thousand and twenty.
Alec Hogg: This sounds like the workings of a criminal syndicate, dealing essentially in street drugs.
Nicky Troll: Exactly, it’s a significant point. You’re referring to a criminal syndicate, a criminal act. While we didn’t confirm a syndicate as alleged by Mr. Sullivan and Mr. Strydom, we did establish that transactions of a criminal nature were taking place. These illegal transactions, which we agree are criminal, occurred under Mr. Strydom’s watch as the responsible pharmacist. The main individual they accused had not been part of the business for over a year.
Alec Hogg: From your research and investigations, is there any doubt in your mind? And could you perhaps show us your collection of documents for those who are unsure?
Nicky Troll: Certainly, here’s a large pile of documentation. This crate contains everything I’ve been working with. On my desk, I have numerous papers that I’m eager to share. At Carte Blanche, we go to great lengths to substantiate our stories beyond a reasonable doubt because…
Nicky Troll: We don’t pursue a story merely for its sensationalism or appeal. We base our stories on facts. Regardless of Mr. Strydom’s involvement, the fact remains that a pharmacy and pharmacy chain, along with a pharmacist holding a wholesale license, were supplying codeine to the black market. The identity of the individuals involved is secondary. The crux of our investigation is the criminal nature of these actions, which warranted public disclosure, something that seems to have been overshadowed by the publicity surrounding Strydom.
Alec Hogg: From a business perspective, was Strydom making more money selling into the illicit market than he would have through legal channels?
Nicky Troll: Generally, items on the black market command higher prices. The pricing is determined by what the seller pays and what they wish to charge. As highlighted in recent articles and reports, including WhatsApp exchanges between Mr. Strydom and a pharmacist, they discussed selling cough syrup to the black market.
Alec Hogg: This issue is particularly severe in lower-income areas, where codeine has become a popular drug of choice.
Nicky Troll: That’s precisely why this story is so important. What’s interesting, though, is the extent we went to validate our story. We spoke with current and former employees and independently verified documents. However, I’m curious about the extent of your research for your piece, considering the amount of information they provided you. Were you able to verify any of the details they shared?
Alec Hogg: My interaction was primarily through an interview with Paul O’Sullivan and Hannes Strydom. They shared their stories during this session. Afterward, I contacted John Webb for clarification. Given O’Sullivan’s reputation and Strydom’s status as a Springbok, it seemed necessary to allow them to present their perspective. But based on what you’re saying, it seems Strydom may not have been entirely truthful.
Nicky Troll: I understand your point, Mr. Hogg. However, our story had already been published by then. It wasn’t just an interview; you could have watched our segment and consulted us before airing it. We displayed all the documents and details on screen in our story, which is why we stand firmly by it. The most crucial documents were made available for public viewing. We gathered this evidence over several months. It’s disheartening when individuals are given a platform to express their opinions without any verification. Our biggest challenge was not having the opportunity to respond to those allegations at the time, which caused reputational damage.
Alec Hogg: O’Sullivan’s track record, including his role in the downfall of two police commissioners, lends him considerable credibility. When he conducts an investigation, it seems only fair to listen to what he has to say.
Nicky Troll: Absolutely, and Carte Blanche, with its 35 years of credible journalism, also deserves that respect.
Alec Hogg: Yeah, it’s not a contest of credentials. I’m suggesting that in situations like this, when a reputable forensic investigator like Paul O’Sullivan is involved, it’s surprising that he might have been misled, despite presumably watching your segment several times, given that it’s his line of work. It’s an unusual occurrence. We now have the opportunity for you to clarify what exactly happened and how someone as experienced as Paul O’Sullivan could have been deceived in this way.
Nicky Troll: I can’t speak on behalf of Mr. O’Sullivan. From our side at Carte Blanche, we never take anything at face value. A story remains just that until we’ve thoroughly verified it. Given the magnitude of this case, the widespread public interest due to codeine addiction, and the size of the chain involved, we put in extra effort to ensure all facts are accurate. One interesting aspect that didn’t seem to gain much attention after our report was the Carltonville pharmacy situation. I don’t know if you recall, but there were sales invoiced to a non-existent pharmacy in Carltonville. We went there more than once.
Nicky Troll: We actually found the landlord, spoke to neighboring shops, and located the supposed owner of that pharmacy. Astonishingly, the pharmacy didn’t exist, a fact we included in our report. Yet, there were invoices processed in April and May 2023. This was one of our major discoveries. I personally drove to Carltonville, and indeed, there was no pharmacy there, although a new one was opening. I made extra efforts to track down the owner of the pharmacy license. He confirmed he wasn’t operational, had no dealings with them, and shared all relevant details. In your piece, Mr. Strydom mentioned at around six minutes and thirty seconds that some invoices were processed for legal entities but then canceled, so they never entered the system.
Nicky Troll: Upon hearing that, I was skeptical. But our research shows otherwise. For instance, I have a Carltonville invoice here, invoice number 1306,000 for 2,500 bottles of Bromclear dated 12th of May, 2023. This invoice, along with corresponding stock ledgers, confirms its entry into the system. We conducted extensive verification of these cases and fully stand by our story, which involved significant investigation and legwork.
Alec Hogg: Paul O’Sullivan, as a forensic investigator, also conducted extensive research, sharing vast amounts of information with me. I recall from my brief experience in retail trade, where we owned a health shop, the prevalence of fraud through manipulation of Goods Receive Vouchers. Shrinkage in retail is a common issue. The surprising element in this case is that Hannes Strydom, despite seemingly being implicated by your investigation, brought Paul O’Sullivan in, ostensibly to affirm his innocence. It’s rare to see someone potentially guilty seek such exposure, especially with someone as credible as Paul O’Sullivan, because eventually, the truth tends to surface. It’s baffling, and we may never fully understand his reasoning.
Nicky Troll: As you’ve mentioned, and as we’ve stated, it does appear that Mr. O’Sullivan was misled. However, a key distinction between his investigation and ours lies in the timeframes we focused on. Our investigation spanned from mid-2022 to August 2023. From my understanding, Mr. O’Sullivan’s investigation concentrated on the period around Nico Mouton’s tenure. Mouton resigned in July 2022, and we have his resignation letter. A crucial aspect of our investigation was the multiple sources and diverse documentation we could verify independently. Unlike a forensic investigator, who might be limited to the information provided by their client, we at Carte Blanche don’t settle for the initial narrative. We rigorously verify and challenge our sources, seeking information from various independent avenues. Our focus was on the period following Nico Moutton’s departure, mainly this year. The main allegation in our story was that Moutton didn’t act alone but under the instruction of Mr. Strydom. To substantiate this, we demonstrated ongoing activities after Moutton’s departure.
Alec Hogg: Nicky Troll, thank you for shedding light on this complex and bizarre story. It’s particularly strange that someone seemingly guilty would seek to assert their innocence by involving someone like Paul O’Sullivan, known for his integrity. And then, in a twist, O’Sullivan initially supports him but later changes his stance.
Nicky Troll: I believe what Mr. O’Sullivan uncovered was not incorrect. There was criminality for a long time. The point of contention is Mr. Strydom’s involvement afterwards. It’s a challenging position to be in, being misled by a client. As for why Mr. Strydom proceeded as he did, that remains an open question.
Alec Hogg: Indeed, a strange story. Thank you very much, and please continue the excellent work at Carte Blanche. The 35-year legacy, proudly established by Derek Watts, is evidently being upheld, as showcased by your investigative efforts and the ‘box of tricks’ you’ve shared with us today. I look forward to our next conversation.
- Ivo Vegter: ANC manipulates currency scandal for political gains, falsely accuses private sector
- 🔒From the FT: UK accuses Russia’s FSB of sustained cyber campaign to meddle in politics
- Urgent action needed: SA takes a stand against corruption, calls for global cooperation: Lord Peter Hain