Since 2001, when he took over as head of security at Airports Company South Africa, Paul O’Sullivan has been engaged in a single-minded endeavour to expose a group of people whose crookedness is (or was) matched only by their power. The charging on Friday of former police chief Jackie Selebi was a direct result of his actions. Now he wants the rest of the bunch brought to book, and one name on his list is Thabo Mbeki.
Vindication isn’t a strong enough word for it. It’s been a battle that’s lasted almost a decade. His adversaries have included the world’s top cop, crooked businessmen, a double-dealing druglord, and some of the most unhinged thugs in the greater Joburg area. Attempts have allegedly been made on his life, and he’s had to place his family in hiding on another continent. Even the people who theoretically should have been on his side, the now disbanded Scorpions, appeared to have it in for him – they regarded him as a liability, inclined to give unverifiable leads, a waster of the elite unit’s time and resources.
But the fact of the matter is this: had it not been for Paul O’Sullivan, Friday’s conviction of former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi would never have happened. From the day in March 2000 when O’Sullivan ran down a small-time thief who grabbed his suitcase at Joburg’s airport, his life has been a series of bizarre events leading him ever deeper into the most complex criminal network of the post-apartheid era.
It started with the Irishman realising that something was desperately wrong with the security set-up at what was then known as Johannesburg International – why didn’t the policeman on duty want to take a statement about the attempted theft of his baggage? Within a year, sensing a gap in the market, O’Sullivan had parlayed his skills and experience into a position as group executive of security at Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), and his efforts to eradicate the petty crime, drug-running and corruption at JIA was strongly supported by Mashudu Ramano, Acsa’s chairman. Problem was, the men were a bit too determined for the likes of the shareholders at Khuselani Security, Acsa’s largest private contractor. When they tried to get rid of Khuselani – whose guards were not only poorly trained, but fond of taking backhanders – O’Sullivan was summoned to a meeting with police chief Selebi, who suggested that would be a bad idea. Ramano, meanwhile, began to receive death threats; one night a group of armed intruders jumped over his wall, which forced him to take the precaution of moving into a hotel.
In January 2003, some time after the Khuselani contract was cancelled, O’Sullivan was fired. He filed a wrongful dismissal suit in which he named Selebi as the primary architect of a conspiracy against him. Over the next two years, still retaining a belief in the sanctity of the criminal justice system, he spent a small fortune in a fruitless attempt to have Selebi investigated. Finally, in 2005, his second marriage in ruins and his resources running thin, he decided to go renegade. “I had only two choices left,” he told Rian Malan during the interviews for a lengthy profile piece that ran in Maverick magazine in 2008. “Admit defeat, or take them on in my own way.”
So O’Sullivan converted a corner of his Bedfordview home into a war room. He covered the walls with charts and organograms that expressed the inter-locking relationships between Joburg’s major crime syndicates, and he drew tentative lines from these syndicates into police headquarters in Pretoria. The names that cropped up on the charts during the ensuing investigations and stake-outs included, amongst others, those of nightclub bouncer boss Clint Nassif, thugs Mikey Schultz and Nigel McGurk, slain mining magnate Brett Kebble, drug trafficker Glenn “The Landlord” Agliotti, and Agliotti’s ex-fiancée Dianne Muller – who signed affidavits swearing that she’d seen Agliotti hand over large piles of cash to the police commissioner.
According to Malan, by July 2006 the Scorpions had received enough evidence from O’Sullivan that they could afford to dispose of his services, and court papers from the time, indicating that prosecutors were instructed to distance themselves from him, would appear to bear the theory out. Of course O’Sullivan also faced the censure of the police themselves, who, under the tutelage of deputy commissioner Andre Pruis, spun the story that he was an active MI5 agent tasked with undermining South Africa’s law enforcement agencies. Not even President Mbeki, an old ally and friend of Selebi’s, was above exploiting this elaborate fabrication: the former president told a group of religious leaders that, since O’Sullivan was a spy, they needn’t worry about the allegations of corruption within the top echelons of the police force.
The conviction of Jackie Sello Selebi on charges of corruption on Friday 2 July 2010 was therefore not only highly unlikely, it would, if cast as fiction in a manuscript, probably have been rejected by just about every publisher worthy of the name. Paul O’Sullivan, who met with The Daily Maverick the day after judgment was handed down, may have been the only person in this whole sordid affair who had no doubt that Selebi’s hour would come.
“I think the judge should have found him guilty of defeating the ends of justice too,” O’Sullivan told us. “It’s my personal opinion that the judge was trying to say there was a duplication of charges, which is ironic, given that he also said that defeating the ends of justice was proven. But it’s incidental, because corruption is a more heinous crime. And it carries a much stiffer sentence; 15 years to life.”
For O’Sullivan, remarkably, while the battle may be won the war is far from over. The “pages of lies dished out to the media” about his background have angered him, and he intends now to go after Pruis and Selby Bokaba, Selebi’s former spokesperson. A court order that he obtained in 2004 instructing the Independent Complaints Directorate to investigate Selebi was deliberately misinterpreted by Bokaba, O’Sullivan alleged, and the instructions were never carried out.
“They’ve let the people of this country down. They’re supposed to be the guardians of our democracy, and the opposite is the case. [Former president] Mbeki, who appointed Selebi, did not do a proper inquiry. Or, he did an inquiry and decided to ignore the content.”
In 1993, O’Sullivan continued, Selebi was caught in possession of an unlicensed firearm; in 1998 Selebi’s wife was arrested for driving a stolen car. “Through [Selebi’s] police connections, he was able to get the charges squashed.”
After half-an-hour detailing his time at Acsa and how he came to suspect that Selebi was bent, O’Sullivan moved on to Acsa CEO Monhla Hlahla, who fired him from the company in 2003. “She must be worried (O’Sullivan actually used a much stronger term – Ed.) right now,” said O’Sullivan. “And if she isn’t, I’ll make sure that she is soon. I’m going to drag her into court and make her explain exactly what she was doing to South Africa, and what games she was playing and with whom. She’s still running Acsa!”
O’Sullivan alleged, on the record, that Hlahla owns shares in a range of companies with close links to Acsa – some of these companies, he said, have exclusive contracts with South Africa’s airports. (While The Daily Maverick intends to follow-up on these allegations, for the moment we can’t be more specific).
Next, O’Sullivan returned to the subject of the South African Police Service. “So you’ve got all these top cops that were appointed by Selebi and protected by Selebi. And they must also be shitting themselves. And if they’re not, then I’ll make sure that they will be. And I’m saying, poor old General Cele, to be trying to do his job while they’re still in their positions. He should put them out in a little police station in Kuruman and disconnect their phones and their electricity.
“In the eight years that Selebi ran it, he corrupted the police force from top to bottom. So you end up with a force where 25 percent are corrupt, 25 percent are lazy and incompetent, 25 percent do an average day’s work, and the other 25 percent are bloody good cops. It should be at least 75 percent bloody good cops and 25 percent average.”
Without taking much of a breath, O’Sullivan then informed The Daily Maverick that he intends “going after” the general secretary of Interpol too. This would be the same Interpol, of course, that elected Selebi its chief in 2004, a position he held until 2008 (sadly, the profile of Selebi appears to have recently been removed from the Interpol Website).
But the biggest surprise of the interview was saved for the last 20 minutes: “And I’m also going after Thabo Mbeki. I’m waiting for the sentencing of Selebi, and then I’m going after Mbeki in respect of the offense of defeating the ends of justice. In my opinion, it was his gutless and criminal conduct that resulted in a delay to the process of bringing Selebi to book of over one year. During that year, 18,000 South Africans were murdered, 75,000 were raped, and 350,000 were robbed, whilst both Mbeki and Selebi benefitted from bodyguards and police officers at their private residences. I will be formally filing those charges after the sentencing of Jackie Selebi.”
As a final thought, O’Sullivan left this interviewer – who, no doubt, was meant to deliver the message to some of the people mentioned above – with something to mull over. “Never piss in an Irishman’s beer and expect him to roll over. It just doesn’t happen.”
By Kevin Bloom
Photo: Sally Shorkend
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