O'Sullivan alleges UK law firm complicit in state capture

Investigator Paul O'Sullivan. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Beeld)
Investigator Paul O'Sullivan. (Deaan Vivier, Gallo Images, Beeld)

Cape Town - Forensic investigator Paul O'Sullivan has accused a British-headquartered law firm of being complicit in creating an “enabling” environment for state capture to flourish in South Africa. 

The firm, Hogan Lovells, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. 

It has in the past rejected similar accusations, saying as a law firm it always puts the “rule of law first and foremost”.

O’Sullivan on Monday morning published a 19-page letter to the website of Forensics for Justice, a non-profit company that he founded in 2015. 

In the letter he accuses the law firm, which has an office on Johannesburg, of repeatedly acting on behalf of clients such as former Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko, former Hawks boss Berning Ntlemeza and current SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, which he claims have all had a hand in state capture. 

According to O’Sullivan, Nhleko and Ntlemeza brought a number of “vexatious and meritless cases against persons who sought to uncover state capture in South Africa” at the same time that they were the clients of Hogan Lovells. 

These include, among others, the suspension of former Hawks head Lieutenant General Anwar Dramat, and charges against former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, among others.

Nhleko has denied he used his position to abuse his powers. Ntlemeza has since retired. Moyane has denied being responsible for bringing charges against Gordhan. 

O'Sullivan noted that Hogan Lovells also acted on behalf of Moyane, when it was tasked with investigating the conduct of top SARS official Jonas Makwakwa in late 2016.

This after the Financial Intelligence Centre flagged suspicious transactions into his bank account and that of his then partner, which allegedly amounted to R1.7m over six years. 

After the law firm submitted its report in June 2017, SARS held an internal disciplinary hearing – based in part on the report - that concluded Makwakwa was not guilty, and he returned to SARS in early November.

The Makwakwa case has been raised in the UK House of Lords by British peer Lord Hain. He previously accused the law firm of producing a "whitewashed" report which “spared” Moyane and Makwakwa from “accountability for their complicity in and cover up of serious financial crimes”.

SARS, meanwhile, has previously said that Hain's claims about it being linked to corruption are "unfortunate and regrettable”. 

O’Sullivan said that, by repeatedly acting on behalf of the three clients, Hogan Lovells had “helped create an ‘enabling environment’ for capture of the Criminal Justice System”.

The British law firm has previously denied any involvement in state capture, although so far it has only publicly answered questions related to its investigation into Makwakwa.

In response to Hain’s claims that its report into Makwakwa was a whitewash, Hogan Lovells’ South Africa chair, Lavery Modise, said in a statement last week that that Hain had “used his parliamentary privilege to spread and perpetuate allegations about me and my firm that are simply untrue”.

“We have never advised and have not been asked to advise on whether Jonas Makwakwa is guilty of any criminal/tax offences and have not exonerated him of any.

 “As a firm of attorneys, we put the rule of law first and foremost, and all of us acknowledge that truth and democratic discourse are an essential part of upholding the rule of law,” said Modise. 

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