'You don’t p**s in an Irishman’s beer!' A look back at YOU's first interview with super sleuth Paul O'Sullivan

By Hilda Van Dyk
15 April 2016

If Paul O’Sullivan wrote to you saying you ought to be in jail you should be afraid. Because if this Irish investigator with a nose like a bloodhound is on your trail you’ll soon be tracked down. YOU first met him in 2013...

Despite his recent arrest on "historic" charges, Paul O' Sullivan vows to continue his fight against crime and corruption. Read the full story in the latest YOU, on shelves 15 April.

YOU first met O' Sullivan in 2013. Here's a look at the interview.

In 2010, Jackie Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption, thanks to O’Sullivan’s dogged investigation. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard In 2010, Jackie Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption, thanks to O’Sullivan’s dogged investigation. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard

If Paul O’Sullivan wrote to you saying you ought to be in jail you should be afraid. Because if this Irish investigator with a nose like a bloodhound is on your trail you’ll soon be tracked down. 

Ask Jackie Selebi. For seven years O’Sullivan, a forensic consultant, was ridiculed for his apparent obsession with catching the former police boss. But he didn’t give up and in 2010 Selebi was sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption, thanks to O’Sullivan’s dogged investigation.

Chumlong Lemtongthai also learnt it’s not easy to put O’Sullivan off the scent. The Thai criminal, who ran an international rhinohunting syndicate, was jailed for 40 years in 2012 after four years of persistent detective work by O’Sullivan.

And after more than a year of probing and more than R1 million in expenses O’Sullivan refuses to give up his investigation of the activities of Johannesburg-based Czech national Radovan Krejcir, an alleged crime boss.

He’s also written to three prominent South Africans, telling them he has them in his sights for alleged corruption. They are Richard Mdluli, former head of the police’s crime intelligence unit; Nomgcobo Jiba, deputy head of the National Prosecuting Authority; and Lawrence Mrwebi, head of the SAPS specialised commercial crime unit.

“Mdluli, Jiba and Mrwebi are at the top of my list,” he says. “I wrote to all of them telling them so. Only Mrwebi replied, calling me a ‘bastard’. I won’t rest until they’re in jail.”

If there’s one thing this Irish sleuth can’t stand it’s the stench of corruption and crime within the police service.

As always, O’Sullivan is immaculately dressed for our interview in his office in suburban Johannesburg – black suit, white shirt, a tie, reading glasses at hand.

He says he can give us only an hour. He has a lot to do before flying to Dublin, Ireland, the following day. And he asks us not to disclose the location of the offices of his forensic investigation company because he isn’t popular with some people.

Various certificates adorn a wall, one of them for his fine work at Scotland Yard, famous headquarters of London’s Metropolitan police department. There’s also a newspaper poster bearing Selebi’s photograph and the words “finish and klaar”, which became synonymous with the disgraced police commissioner’s conviction.

Selebi made O’Sullivan a household name. The investigator’s dossier, the result of seven years of probing, finally got him convicted.

O’Sullivan says every time he detained one of Selebi’s pals carrying unlawful goods the instruction came from above to return the goods to the suspect. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard O’Sullivan says every time he detained one of Selebi’s pals carrying unlawful goods the instruction came from above to return the goods to the suspect. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard

In one corner of the office is a whiteboard bearing a name and address written in red. It marks another investigation. He won’t say anything about most of his investigations as he has secrecy clauses in contracts with his clients, who range from the government to private individuals. His latest controversial investigation is one he won’t discuss.

Shan Ramburuth, commissioner of the Competition Commission, resigned recently after it was reported he’d spent thousands of rands of taxpayers’ money on pornography. He was accused of spending about R15 000 an hour downloading internet porn to his computer using his official SIM card.

O’Sullivan feeds on corruption and fraud. He and his team compile dossiers making the case for the prosecution of specific people and pass them on to the appropriate officials in police structures.

He began working for the police in Britain as a young man and later did intelligence work for the British government, then for the police service of the United Nations (UN). While on secret missions for the UN in Zimbabwe he and his team often had to go to Johannesburg to compile reports.

He fell in love with the city – “the best city in the world” – and decided to settle there 26 years ago. He immediately signed up as a police reservist, doing law-enforcement work for 50 to 60 hours a month. O’Sullivan says he doesn’t boast nor does he take pleasure from others’ misfortune but in 1994 he made more arrests than any other member of the SAPS.

He joined the border police unit and while working at Johannesburg International Airport, as it was then known, he and his 35-person team arrested more than 1 000 people in one year.

That’s where he and Selebi crossed paths. O’Sullivan says every time he detained one of Selebi’s pals carrying unlawful goods the instruction came from above to return the goods to the suspect.

Without being ordered by anyone to do so he began investigating Selebi. In 2001 he accepted the post of national head of security for the 10 airports operated by the Airports Company of South Africa (Acsa). And suddenly, he says, Selebi was after his blood. The police chief first had him removed from the reservists, then ensured he lost his job at Acsa.

“You don’t p**s in an Irishman’s beer,” O’Sullivan says. “You just don’t do that. “I sold my aircraft and my house, put some money together and started investigating Selebi full time. I infiltrated the police and even had people who worked in Selebi’s office.”

It took seven years and “scores of meetings with the Scorpions” before the elite unit decided to use O’Sullivan’s dossier to prosecute Selebi.

O’Sullivan says it isn’t too difficult to investigate a case; it’s like building a jigsaw puzzle – you take a few pieces of information and start building on them.

He still does his own probing and talks to people during his investigations. If a source is some distance away he hires a plane – he’s been a pilot for 35 years – and meets the person at an airport. “It’s easy to carry out a hit on someone in a car. In the air it’s basically impossible.”

He sometimes works through the night and meets people in strange places and at odd times. “You do what you have to do,” he says.

It took seven years and “scores of meetings with the Scorpions” before the elite unit decided to use O’Sullivan’s dossier to prosecute Selebi. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard It took seven years and “scores of meetings with the Scorpions” before the elite unit decided to use O’Sullivan’s dossier to prosecute Selebi. PHOTO: Rowyn Lombard

CORRUPTION in South Africa isn’t a great deal more serious than it was when he arrived here 26 years ago, O’Sullivan says. “Back then it was swept under the carpet.”

Today, with freedom of speech, people talk more openly about corruption. And corruption isn’t unique to South Africa; it happens all over the world. At least there there are people who are prepared to do something about it.

“Look at Selebi,” he says. “He wasn’t only the chief of police in South Africa – he was head of Interpol too. He was the world’s police chief. The whole world listened to the judgment at his trial.

“Look at that policeman,” he says, indicating a newspaper front page on the wall with a report on another disgraced senior cop. “He sold firearms permits to gangs. I caught him.”

O’Sullivan’s cellphone rings and he pulls it from his pocket. It’s a weathered old Nokia, the kind you have to flip open to use the keyboard to write a text message.

“Good, this afternoon at 4 pm in my office,” he confirms to the caller. Our hour is up. “You know, a book is being written about me and a film about me is going to be made in America,” he says. “The deal has already been signed.

“I don’t really object to it. Perhaps there’s a story that has to be told.”

Read our update with Paul O' Sullivan in the new issue of YOU. Get your copy online here

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