In this extract from Marianne Thamm’s book To Catch a Cop: The Paul O’Sullivan Story, we read how forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan started getting under erstwhile national police commissioner Jackie Selebi’s skin at a time when he still thought he was untouchable.
In March 2007, Interpol held a three-day training symposium in Johannesburg, which proved mildly embarrassing when Jackie Selebi’s minders attempted to prevent journalists from asking Ronald Noble, Interpol general secretary, uncomfortable questions about the alleged links of Selebi, then Interpol’s president, to the international underworld.
Until then, Interpol had offered its full support for Selebi from the time the allegations became public in 2006.
In the meantime, the organisation had resolved that it would discuss Selebi’s position at an upcoming General Assembly due to take place in Morocco in November 2007, the same month Glenn Agliotti would be found guilty of drug-trafficking. If Selebi had managed to construct a cordon sanitaire around himself in South Africa, O’Sullivan was determined to ambush him outside the safety of the borders of the country.
In July 2007 Selebi was due to address Interpol’s 19th Regional Conference in Arusha, Tanzania. “I took the ads for the Tanzania conference and e-mailed them to him from my Scarlet Pimpernel address with the message ‘this will be great, see you there’,” Paul O’Sullivan says with a chuckle.
Expecting a heckler, conference organisers ramped up security, but of course O’Sullivan didn’t attend. This was all intended to keep Selebi “on his toes and looking over his shoulder”. Selebi’s speech to delegates at the Arusha meeting included the usual platitudes about curbing the small arms and drugs trade in Africa as well as the devastating effect of counterfeit pharmaceuticals on Africans.
“There was another conference due to take place in Europe and I sent Selebi another mail. This time I said: ‘I’m going to drag your name through the mud.’ And of course again I didn’t go.”
Whether Selebi was in any way perturbed by Paul’s threats to expose him, we will never know, but he seemed to believe that upping security at the events would prevent O’Sullivan from sabotaging him.
As the Interpol 76th General Assembly, which would take place in Morocco in November 2007, loomed, O’Sullivan prepared for the coup de grâce of his campaign.
“Firstly, I got someone I know who was close to Selebi to whisper to him that I was a bull******* and that I wouldn’t attend the conference in Marrakesh. He’d leave for that one relaxed,” Paul recounts.
The world’s top policemen would be gathered at the five-star, luxury Espace Hotel Mansour Eddahbi Palais des Congrès to discuss a range of issues, including human trafficking and terrorism.
Selebi was due to present his opening speech in front of some of the world’s most senior law-enforcement officers and O’Sullivan was poised to use the opportunity to expose and humiliate him.
He got to work on a 12-page brochure titled “How the Mafia Have Infiltrated Interpol”. It was headed with three photographs, one of Glenn Agliotti, captioned “the Family”, one of a smiling Jackie Selebi and a third with Interpol’s logo, captioned “the Organisation”.
O’Sullivan cut to the chase: “This document intends to show just how trans-national crime syndicates have penetrated Interpol and even have Interpol’s head (Jackie Selebi) in their pocket.
“This is a chilling tale of low ethics and corruption, intimidation, human trafficking, drug trafficking, fraud and corruption, robbery, attempted murder and murder.”
O’Sullivan dealt a few more body blows and quoted extensively from Clinton Nassif’s affidavit detailing Selebi’s corrupt relationship with Glenn Agliotti, the Kebbles and various other suspects who had claimed to have paid him bribes.
He copied and pasted several of Selebi’s speeches to Interpol conferences in which he had talked the talk, highlighting that police corruption was the biggest threat to international law enforcement. O’Sullivan signed off by asking delegates whether they were prepared to deal with these grave allegations against their president or simply sweep them under the carpet.
Then he packed his bag for Marrakesh, stuffing enough copies of the “Selebi brochure” in his briefcase. “I flew into Morocco from London and checked into a hotel nearby. I reckoned if you’re going to play in the big league, you’d better have a big bat, and my brochure was my bat.”
Dressed in his black suit and carrying his briefcase, the renegade investigator did not look out of place at the gathering of policemen. He knew how to move among the crowd as if he belonged there. After all, he had spent the best part of 30 years as a cop himself.
Selebi was due to make his address at 10.30 on the morning of November 5. “I waited for a tea break to make my move. Selebi was due to address the conference afterwards. I talked my way into the conference venue, telling security I’d left my ID in my hotel room. I went around the room putting a copy of my brochure on every single seat facing the top table. I was careful that no one on the top table got one.”
At the end of the conference day, O’Sullivan floated around the main hotel to pick up the vibes and feeling about the hand-out.
It was clear tongues were wagging and he was even rewarded with a beer by a couple of Australian cops who had taken to his style and wanted to know more. As he was dishing out the last of his brochures in the main hotel cocktail bar area, he was challenged by what he describes as “a very short guy in a suit with an American accent”, who approached O’Sullivan and demanded to see his passport.
O’Sullivan’s response was abrupt: “What’s your jurisdiction?”
The man replied that he was on the executive of Interpol and that he was entitled to see his passport. O’Sullivan typically replied: “Listen, mate, this is Africa, not Lyon, so get out of my face before I put you on my key-ring.” The man, whom O’Sullivan refers to as “Shorty”, left to get backup, but by the time he returned “the Scarlet Pimpernel had vanished”.
Sensing that the brochure would cause a scandal and enrage Selebi, O’Sullivan slipped out of Morocco as soon as possible, flying to France, where he implemented phase two of the Morocco plan. “I really wanted to rattle him, so I wrote this semi-official looking letter that I e-mailed to the hotel manager in Morocco. I called about 2am local time and asked him to please pop the urgent letter under President Selebi’s door.”
The manager did as he was told and delivered the letter from “The Office for Special Investigations of Interpol, South Africa” to room 6005.
“Dear President Selebi,” it opened, followed by the headline “Investigation regarding the Scarlet Pimpernel”. It continued: “Further to documents dropped off at your hotel and distributed to various members of the Interpol fraternity, revealing your criminal activities, our investigations have revealed the following…”
O’Sullivan let Selebi know that this “Pimpernel” was “hell bent” on setting the record straight, that he had skills “he has just started to deploy” and that “he will leave no stone unturned getting back at you”.
O’Sullivan waited a few minutes after he had issued his e-mail instruction before calling the hotel. “Then I called Jackie’s room myself. A woman picked up (not Selebi’s wife, he noted) and I asked to speak to the commissioner. When he came on the line, I asked him what he thought of the letter and challenged him to meet me downstairs in the foyer. He slammed down the phone,” O’Sullivan says with a hearty laugh.
O’Sullivan returned to South Africa a while later, that particular mission accomplished with flair, he reckoned. He subsequently learnt that Selebi had cowered in his hotel room, while awaiting a special police escort from the Moroccan police to the conference suite.
* To Catch a Cop: The Paul O’Sullivan Story is published by Jacana Media and can be found at all good bookstores at a recommended price of R195.