The Alec Hogg Show: Meet Paul O’Sullivan, ace investigator taking on SA’s corrupt – and winning

In this inaugural episode of The Alec Hogg Show, meet Paul O’Sullivan, an entrepreneur, philanthropist and forensic investigator who has made it his business to clean up on corruption. Hear about O’Sullivan’s formative years, as well as what fuels his passion for exposing illegal activities within South Africa. This is part one of the transcriptions from The Alec Hogg Show, with the full interview available for you to listen to, here. – Jarryd Neves

Welcome to episode one of the Alec Hogg Show. A half hour audio biography with our guests selected simply because they’re interesting. Our guest in this episode – our inaugural one – is Paul O’Sullivan, the famous anti-corruption campaigner whose efforts have led to the exposure and ejection of many powerful establishment figures, including two heads of the South African Police force and a whole posse of once untouchable political icons. 

Like the other guests on this show, Paul’s been selected on the basis that if his story were captured in book form, it would likely be a bestseller, which in reality is the case with him. Marianne Thamm’s 2014 biography ‘To Catch a Cop‘ sold extremely well. So eavesdrop on what follows and I’ve got a feeling that by the end you’ll know Paul better, but also most definitely leave uplifted and inspired by his example.

Paul, it’s good to be talking to you any time, but particularly now on this inaugural episode. I was having a look through the book that Marianne Thamm wrote about you. Clearly, you were pretty involved in that. Given your need to stay in the shadows to a large degree, why actually have a book written about you in the first place?

Marianne wanted to write the book, so I thought what the heck? Let the people know what’s going on out there. At the end of the day, I don’t have any need to stay in the shadows. It’s the criminals that I chase that want to stay in the shadows. What I do is drag them out of the shadows.

Where did it all start? I know you are from Ireland?

So it started for me when somebody broke into my car back in 1989, when I was a young immigrant to South Africa. At the time I was the general manager of the Eastern Province Building Society in Gauteng. My P.A at the time told me her husband’s a policeman. So he came along, and we had a whole discussion. He said, “Why don’t you become a police reservist?” 

So I did. You have to put in eight hours a month. I put in probably 10 hours a week. During that time apartheid was in its dying years. It was almost over. I moved to South Africa after the vote to dismantle apartheid was carried as a yes vote. I collected my permanent residence permit from Dennis Worrall, who was then the ambassador in London. Now it’s the high commissioner there. It was ambassador then because South Africa had been kicked out of the Commonwealth (they’re back in it now). So, it’s been a long journey. I became a police reservist and started training other people to do the same.

I became the head lecturer at the police training centre in Houghton. Between 1990 and 2000, I think I trained 1,500 police reservists. 

In what? 

I trained them in Criminal Law A and B and the new Constitution, which came out in 1996, but we started training people on the draft of it in 1995. We also trained people in police administration, which is a very important part of policing. It’s amazing how many people don’t know how to write a sworn statement. We trained them how to be observant, trained them about victims rights and all that sort of stuff. So I did that for 10 years.

It’s quite a jump, Paul. From being the manager of a building society into teaching policemen how to police. Did you have much background in it?

Well, I had, because I’d been a policeman myself. I’d served previously in the United Nations police and the military police in the UK. So I did have a background in policing and I was pretty good at what I did. I was involved in counter-terrorism and counter-espionage. I just thought to use those skills in my new home, which was then South Africa. 

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My old man used to say, if a country is good enough to live in, it’s good enough to fight for. So I decided to fight for it, and my way of adding something back into the community was to do that. Some people have different ways of doing it. Some people go and volunteer at the SPCA or they’ll go and volunteer at the local children’s home. What I decided to do was to volunteer in the police. 

Your old man?

During the war, my old man was an engineer in the Royal Navy – the British Navy – even though he was from Dublin. A lot of people during the war in Ireland, they went and joined the British forces because it was the right thing to do. After the war, he became a colonial policeman. He was in Palestine, (British) Malaya and Hong Kong. Then he went back to Ireland and he was in the Garda Síochána.

Catholic? 

Yes, naturally. With a name like O’Sullivan, you’re born, you grow up and you go to school. In our case, it was national school and the priests, the christian brothers. I ended up at Christian Brothers College. That’s what we did. I think that was the way of many kids in those days.

For many South Africans, the Irish story of that era has been shaped by books of poverty and difficulties that Ireland had. Did you have an easy or not so easy upbringing? 

We had it hard. So I had lots of brothers and sisters. Some of them passed away at a very young age through what we knew as consumption then. Of course, it’s now known by its correct name, which is tuberculosis. Consumption was the killer in Ireland in those days. We had an outside toilet. We had no electricity. The outside toilet was constantly moved because, that’s the way it worked. A big hole in the ground and when it wouldn’t take anymore, I guess that’s what happened. I remember when the modern era started ushering its way in. 

They came with a truck and they delivered a new outside toilet where you had to walk up steps into the hut. Once a week they came and they emptied the bin at the back. So we then moved from having an outside toilet where it went into a hole in the ground, to what I guess is commonly now called the bucket system. Then I think a year after that, they came with wiring and poles and they put electricity into the house. So we certainly weren’t living in the lap of luxury. The house had three rooms. The main room – which was the kitchen, lounge and everything all in one – and two bedrooms with no running water at all.

How many kids?

The most there were at any one time were six.

Angela’s Ashes?

It was very similar to that, except we were in a rural environment. Angela’s Ashes was in the town – in the west of Ireland – called Limerick, which was probably about 50-60 miles or 70-100 kilometres from where we lived. We were in a rural setting. I mean, we had to arrive at school with clean shoes, so we used to tie the shoelaces together and just hang them over our neck and walk to school barefoot. We did this because there was no proper way of getting to school with clean shoes because you’d be walking along muddy and rainy roads. When we got to school, we’d rinse our feet off and put our socks and shoes on, so that we wouldn’t be in trouble for having dirty shoes at school. 

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Paul, when you look around South Africa, there are many people who live that way today in this country. Has that influenced you – your upbringing – in any way and in this obsessive mission that you’ve got to attack the criminal element?

It absolutely has. The people that are engaged in corruption are stealing not from me and you. Of course, they are stealing from us. But the main victims of their crime are those people that have to tie their shoes around their necks before they walk to school, don’t have proper toilets or have no electricity. Those are the real victims of corruption because the people that are corrupt are actually stealing the future of the country. 

The people that get affected by most are the poorest of the poor. If somebody steals, let’s say, a R100,000 from you or me. Yes, it’s painful. It’s not something we enjoy watching or feeling. But if you steal R100,000 from somebody whose gross income for the year is R25,000 or R30,000, you’ve stolen three years of their salary. it’s shocking, really. How on earth can you have a situation where young girls live in abject poverty, don’t have money for sanitary pads, walk five or six kilometres to school in all weathers and walk home again.

Along the way, they get accosted by sugar daddies and offered free rides and stuff like that. It’s that type of thing that we have to deal with in South Africa. That’s why I’ve also been backing – and not a lot of people know that – a charity called Qhubeka, which puts bicycle’s into rural areas so that young females don’t have to rely on some drive-by person offering them a lift or getting into a car with strangers. We have to do it and the best way to do it is to work at it together.

To listen to this remarkable interview, download the link here. You can also subscribe to The Alec Hogg Show on Spotify here.

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