Selebi Gifted Mbeki a Pair of Soft-Leather Designer Shoes ...Paid for by the Godfather

Article excerpt

Byline: From Barbara Jones IN JOHANNESBURG

Paul O'Sullivan edged his red Audi TT roadster onto Route 21, the great artery that links Pretoria to Johannesburg and serves Jo'burg's teeming international airport. It had been a tough day for the Irishman and it was about to get worse.

The former MI6 intelligence officer and police reservist had hardly been in his new job a wet day - as security executive for ACSA, South Africa's equivalent to Aer Rianta, with responsibility for 10 airports - but already he had fallen foul of crime gangs and the Mafia, and made a sworn enemy of the country's most senior and powerful policeman.

It was still broad daylight in Johannesburg as he pulled out into the busy traffic; there could hardly have been a more public place or time. It can only have been some survival instinct drummed into him in MI6 that made him look to his right, in time to see a car draw alongside - all the occupants wore balaclava masks.

Immediately, they opened up, riddling the side of O'Sullivan's car with bullets. Again, his training kicked in and he calmly emptied a clip at his would-be assassins as he accelerated away to safety. It wasn't to be the last attempt on the Irishman's life.

'Now I live in a fortress,' he says. 'I'm ready for them if they come again.

'I have good life insurance to look after my wife and children if I am killed. I do not fear it. My father said to me back in Ireland that if a country was good enough to live in, it was good enough to fight for - and I believe South Africa is the best country in the world.'

Fighting is one thing. Singlehandedly taking on a vast web of crime and corruption that extended to the very apex of the political pyramid is quite another. They don't come much higher than Jackie Selebi, the respected head of Interpol and South Africa's Commissioner of Police, a man who could call on the friendship and protection of Thabo Mbeki.

It's David against a whole army of Goliaths.

Yet O'Sullivan, born in Tipperary, reared in some poverty in rural Cork, toughened by a harsh father and the casual cruelty of the local CBS, a runaway at 14 and a soldier at 17, is on the verge of victory.

Selebi, forced to resign both his high-profile jobs, is on trial for corruption and defeating the ends of justice - and, day by day, the details emerging from South Gauteng High Court confirm O'Sullivan's unlikely-sounding story of conspiracy, greed, drug-smuggling, bribery and ultimately, murder.

And it was O'Sullivan's 140-page dossier, paid for out of his own pocket and painstakingly gathered despite the death threats and assassination attempts and the might of the forces ranged against him, that finally landed Selebi in the dock.

O'Sullivan reckons it was his Irishness, 'the fire in his belly', and the hard knocks of his Cork childhood that kept him going. When Selebi had him sacked from his airport job, others might have bowed to overwhelming force and quietly retreated back to London or Ireland, putting the whole sorry affair down to experience. But that's not O'Sullivan's way.

At 14 he ran away from home, hitching rides and finally reaching Castlebar in a Post Office van. Later, he stowed away on a ferry to Liverpool.

'I had one shilling and threepence in my pocket', he says. 'I ordered fish and chips in a cafe, found I was threepence short and just legged it down the street. I hated the city and had nowhere to stay. So I took a train to London, avoiding the ticketinspector, and worked for a while as a porter at the railway station.

'I had no right to be there and the authorised porters regularly beat me up. I was living rough but I survived. I was earning a few quid a week.'

One day, the grand Lord Mayor's Procession came by, London's annual historic pageant of flamboyant costumes and horse-drawn carriages flanked by the Queen's horses and her military hardware. …