Marianne Thamm: The meaning of Paul O’Sullivan
Private investigator Paul O'Sullivan spent eight years relentlessly investigating former police chief Jackie Selebi. As Selebi's trial drew to a close in 2010, the apparently indefatigable Irish expat began focusing on his next project - toppling the extensive criminal empire of one of the most dangerous criminals in the country, Czech-born fugitive Radovan Krejcir. Last week four people were arrested in Johannesburg for plotting to assassinate O'Sullivan, Colonel Nkosana 'Killer' Ximba as well as other members of a Hawks special task team investigating Krejcir.
On 10 September 2010 at around 6.30pm, private investigator Paul O'Sullivan was in Dublin when he received a call on his cellphone. He answered in his usual manner: "O'Sullivan, good day." The caller at the other end paused momentarily before speaking.
The man, recalls O'Sullivan, had an Eastern European accent and said "Hello, clown. You want to fuck with me? I will show you who is Radovan. When you will come back to South Africa, I will make you suck my cock, then I will kill you, to show you you fucked with the wrong guy."
The caller then hung up.
On 18 September 2010, O'Sullivan made a sworn statement at the Bramley police station, providing a phone log of the threatening phone call, as well as other details. In the statement, he reminded police of another sworn statement he had taken from a source who had said Krejcir had asked him to procure a "30-06 sniper rifle for the purpose of killing me". O'Sullivan also provided police with information and a photograph of an illegal elephant's tusk that hung on the wall of the bar of Krejcir's house at the Vaal River.
"I request urgent police intervention to prevent the conspiracy to murder me from becoming a reality," O'Sullivan ended the statement back then.
Fast forward to the afternoon of 9 January this year and the arrest of Siboniso Miya (32), Jacob Nare (28), Owen Serero (32) and a woman, Zodumiso Biyele (23) after a planned assassination attempt on O'Sullivan and Colonel Nkosana Ximba (who arrested Krejcir in December), as well as other members of a Hawks specialised unit, was thwarted in Johannesburg.
Two weapons, including an R5 assault rifle (believed to have been used in the drive-by killing of Lebanese businessman Bassam Issa in October 2013) blue lights, balaclavas and several number plates were confiscated from the would-be assassins. Several telephones and iPads were also recovered, and these are being investigated for encrypted communications that will lead to the mastermind behind the assassination plot, believed by many to be Krejcir.
Shortly after the arrests last week O'Sullivan sent a characteristically provocative email (which he copied to select journalists) to Krejcir's lawyer Eddie Classen.
In the mail, O'Sullivan suggests that Classen tell his client "that I will do all that I can lawfully do to strip him of everything he or his crooked family members have acquired through his criminal conduct, and see that he rots in jail FOREVER".
O'Sullivan told Classen that he believed Krejcir issued the instruction for the assassination to take place at noon on the Thursday so that he could claim that he had had nothing to do with it, as he would have been behind bars in C-Max.
"They walked straight into a trap and Krejcir's attempt was thwarted. Again!" said O'Sullivan.
O'Sullivan suggested that if Classen appealed the court's decision not to grant Krejcir bail he would, "legally intervene … as it is not in the interests of justice to have that gangster on the streets. However, after the chaos of his failed hit on me and the colonel that was behind his arrest late last year, you may wish to reconsider your futile attempts at trying to get him out of jail."
The investigator ended the mail with a cheerful "Thinking of suing me for defamation? Go ahead, bring it on, I will wipe the floor with you and bring a counter-claim that will make your claim pale into insignificance."
Jackie Selebi had felt the full wrath of O'Sullivan after "pissing in an Irishman's beer". Imagine the shitstorm Krejcir could have expected from the investigator after threatening to have him suck cock before killing him.
Paul O'Sullivan has been on Radovan Krejcir's tail for the past four years, after the Czech fugitive's name first popped up on the radar while the private investigator was hunting down Selebi.
Since starting his investigation into Krejcir, O'Sullivan has handed between 12 to 15 damning sworn statements (some of which I have read during the course of researching the book) to police from a range of people implicating Krejcir in a string of serious crimes including money laundering, smuggling drugs, smuggling contraband cigarettes and much more. Meanwhile, at least 12 bodies have piled up around Krejcir who has, until now, managed to escape police dragnets and the coils of justice.
It was O'Sullivan who submitted an extensive and detailed affidavit - with attached sworn statements - of the various crimes linked to Krejcir, including the murder of former apartheid police operative turned "private investigator" Kevin Trytsman, Teazer's strip club boss Lolly Jackson, and German luxury car convertor Uwe Gemballa, to the refugee appeals tribunal requesting the Czech not be granted asylum in South Africa.
"I do not believe our system is perverted. I have faith in South Africa and its government, its people and this honourable tribunal. I do not believe Krejcir's claim that he has paid all the right people in the right places to ensure he gets to stay in South Africa. I have faith that you will do the right thing and send this gangster back to the Seychelles, where he belongs, or any country that will take him," O'Sullivan wrote to the tribunal in January 2011.
In his short sojourn in South Africa (he arrived in 2007) Krejcir managed ruthlessly to infiltrate and destabilise established crime networks while police appeared to look on helplessly, at times appearing to aid and abet him. O'Sullivan says the question now is not how many cops are on Krejcir's payroll, but how high up the corruption goes.
Krejcir has been allowed to operate, and indeed flourish, partly because of the corruption of police criminal intelligence by rogue elements. In 2011, before his arrest after the murder of his one of his associates Cyril Beeka in Cape Town, Krejcir was given access to illegally taped conversations about him between O'Sullivan and Major General Shadrack Sibiya, the current head of the Hawks in Gauteng.
A faction within police intelligence, loyal to controversial suspended crime intelligence head Richard Mduli, has been consistently accused of working against Sibiya in an attempt to discredit him.
In 2011 General Joey Mabasa was asked to leave the police service (but not without receiving a golden handshake) for his close connections with Krejcir. Mabasa had driven with Krejcir to the house of Lolly Jackson on the night he was murdered. Not only that, Jackson had been shot with Mabasa's gun that had allegedly been stolen the day before but only reported afterwards. Apart from this, Mabasa's wife Dorcas had gone into business with Krejcir's wife Katerina Krejcirova.
When I first met O'Sullivan in April 2013 to research a book on his role in the investigation and conviction of Jackie Selebi, I was aware his was one of four names on a hit list found by the Hawks during a dramatic raid on Krejcir's R30-million Bedfordview home in 2011.
The other three names on the list were Cyril Beeka, the notorious Cape Town former bouncer and underworld crime boss who was cultivated by both security agents of the former regime as well as underground ANC operatives; state prosecutor Riegal du Toit; and Krejcir's former doctor Marian Tupy.
Du Toit had been investigating Krejcir's link to the murder of Uwe Gemballa, who disappeared shortly after arriving in Johannesburg in February 2010. Gemballa was found eight months later in a shallow grave, a plastic bag over his head, his hands tied behind his back, having been shot at close range in the head. Three men were subsequently arrested for the murder.
Gemballa acted as a sort of Secret Santa for Jackson and Krejcir, stuffing wads of fresh euros in the panels of converted luxury vehicles he shipped to South Africa. Jackson and Krejcir both shared a love of exotic vehicles and at the time of his death the Teazers boss had around R90 million worth of cars in his garage.
Krejcir had reportedly argued with Gemballa during a phone call made or received at the Harbour Café in 2010 after money that had meant to be stashed inside a Porsche delivered in September that year had gone missing.
Beeka was dead by the time I met Paul, so he had clearly moved up a slot on the list. Friends and family were concerned for my safety but for some reason, perhaps foolishness, I was not worried. I had worked as a crime reporter for the Cape Times for over eight years and have been exposed to human beings at their worst.
Besides, if I were going to be hanging around with someone whose name was No 1 on a hit list complied by one of the country's most ruthless criminals, I was glad that was Paul O'Sullivan, and not someone else. I spent a week with him in Jo'burg, where we sped through the streets and highways, O'Sullivan driving like a man accustomed to avoiding a bullet (he has been shot at several times in this country).
Playing back my interviews, I can often hear myself gasping as O'Sullivan's car engine suddenly roars as he takes a gap in traffic, making sure always to be on the move; never, ever stationary.
People warned me about the investigator. Some had said he was mad, crazy, an agent, a brusque man. But I liked him.
O'Sullivan is someone accustomed to keeping secrets and even though he had officially approved me to write the account of his role in Selebi's downfall, I could not dig out more than he wanted to reveal. Much of the research had to be done poring over thousands of pages of court records, emails, affidavits, sworn statements, letters and taped phone calls.
In the end it proved to be a sprawling narrative that featured a cast of thousands, including petty thugs and criminals, crooked businessmen and cops, and that rippled in all the way to the Union Buildings.
The thing about the Selebi and the Krejcir narrative and the intersection between organised crime, police and even politics is that is it so deep, wide and complicated that it is almost impossible for someone outside of it to fathom just how much kak we are in.
I like O'Sullivan because of the way he speaks to those whom he deems his enemies - criminals and the lawyers who represent them. I want to do an air punch when I read his emails to corrupt cops; I want to shout "yessssss" when he fearlessly tells Selebi that he is going to take him down. I like O'Sullivan because in spite of it all, he believes that there are more good cops than bad and that, in the end, the bad guys always get their comeuppance. And if he can believe it, why shouldn't you and I?
In a world where crime TV series like The Wire or CSI dominate and where crime fiction has become the most popular and widely read genre, it is important to bear in mind that O'Sullivan and the crooked cops and criminals who occupy his world are not fictional characters. They are frighteningly real.
"Sounds like the plot of a Bond movie," people say about O'Sullivan and his life. The point is this is not a movie; this is the cold, chilling reality of organised crime and the deep and urgent threat it poses to our young democracy.
It was Sam Sole, managing partner of amaBhungane, _Mail & Guardian's _centre for investigative journalism, who in April 2011 published a compelling piece titled 'The Meaning of Radovan Krejcir'.
Sole wrote: 'The Czech fugitive is a connoisseur of weak states. His choice of SA as a refuge is symptomatic of the country's deepening moral malaise. There's not really a single point at which a country suddenly becomes a failed state. States exist across a continuum of dysfunction. Some things still work in Zimbabwe, in Swaziland, after all. And in Italy, for instance, some things don't. In war the collapse of law and order happens so fast we can see it and it is usually mirrored by physical destruction, which underlines the impact. Organised crime and corruption are more like slow biological warfare or radiation. The infrastructure seems to remain intact - there are just bodies that accumulate haphazardly - until you realise the infrastructure (or the institution) has become so contaminated, it is no longer functional, indeed it has become a threat itself and must be abandoned or destroyed."
For that reason alone I'm glad that O'Sullivan, as unorthodox as he may be, is on our side.
Marianne Thamm is the author of 'To Catch A Cop', the soon-to-be released account of Paul O'Sullivan's role in the investigation and conviction of former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. The book will be available in February and is published by Jacana.
This column appeared in Daily Maverick.