A legal cost consultant who used to work for disbarred personal injury lawyers Ronald Bobroff and Partners testified in the regional court in Randburg on Wednesday about threats that left her fearing for the safety of her children.
Cora van der Merwe is the complainant in the criminal case of private investigator Paul O’Sullivan and his associate Melissa Naidu, who have been charged with kidnapping, extortion and fraud.
Both accused pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and accused the state of malicious prosecution.
Van der Merwe was a key whistleblower who provided evidence about the Bobroff practice overcharging accident victims whose claims they presented. Following the revelations and extensive litigation, Ronald Bobroff and his son Darren Bobroff were struck off the Roll of Attorneys in December and have since fled to Australia to escape criminal prosecution.
The charges against O’Sullivan and Naidu stem from events on October 13, 2014. Van der Merwe testified that she arrived at work to find she couldn’t access her computer, because the password had been changed. Ronald Bobroff said the firm’s firewall was updated over the weekend and it will take time to solve the issue.
Shortly thereafter she was led to the firm’s boardroom by a colleague Vanessa Valente, thinking that she was going to assist Valente in a meeting about a medical negligence matter.
Valente however left as they reached the boardroom and Van der Merwe met O’Sullivan and Naidu alone in the boardroom.
O’Sullivan informed her that he was acting on Bobroff’s mandate and met with him and Adv Nazeer Cassim SC that morning. He said he was investigating the source of leaked “intellectual property” belonging to Bobroff and had Cassim and Ronald Bobroff’s support.
He asked her about her children and seemed to know that she has a disabled child, Van der Merwe testified.
She responded, but when he asked for her ID, she refused. Van der Merwe testified that O’Sullivan shouted at her and produced email correspondence between her and journalist Tony Beamish who worked at Moneyweb at the time. He said he had a watertight case of theft against her.
Van der Merwe testified that O’Sullivan said if she was prepared to make an affidavit and assist him in proving Beamish was in possession of stolen documents, he could grant her indemnity against criminal prosecution.
If she was not prepared to help him, she was going to jail together with Beamish, O’Sullivan allegedly told her.
She said she admitted to sending the e-mails to Beamish, but denied having done anything wrong. O’Sullivan allegedly shouted at her and said she was going to sleep in jail unless she went with him and Naidu.
“What made me extremely, extremely scared is that he said I won’t see my children again. He took all the detail of my children, he knew where they lived,” a crying Van der Merwe testified. “I felt like someone in a hijacking.”
She said Naidu, who left most of the talking to O’Sullivan, said softly: “Think about your children…”.
Van der Merwe will continue her testimony on Thursday.
Earlier on Wednesday Adv. Zirk Pansegrouw representing O’Sullivan and Naidu, cross-examined investigating officer Captain Ngwako Mokobi.
Mokobi could not give an explanation why former Gauteng Hawks head general Prince Mokotedi referred a case of kidnapping to him, who was working in the Commercial Crimes Unit. He just said he was told to deal with the “special case”.
He could not explain how a second affidavit he took from Van der Merwe disappeared or why almost 19 months lapsed between the incident and the date she filed an affidavit. A further month lapsed before a docket was opened.
Mokobi confirmed that he never consulted with witness Anthony Millar who was in contact with Van der Merwe through text messages during the events on October 13 2014. Hawks investigator Warrant Officer Vlok took Millar’s as well as Beamish’s affidavits, he testified.
He further confirmed that he did not subpoena the phone records to show the text messages and phone calls made during the event.
The trial is expected to continue until Friday.