Forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan on Thursday told the Randburg Magistrate’s Court that the complaint of Bobroff whistleblower Cora van der Merwe that he kidnapped her on October 13 2014 was “completely fabricated”.
O’Sullivan took the stand in his own defence on charges of extortion, intimidation and kidnapping. His former assistant Melissa Naidu is his co-accused.
He told the court that he was appointed at the time by personal injury attorney Ronald Bobroff to investigate the leaking of proprietary and privileged information from the Bobroff’s firm Ronald Bobroff and Partners (RBP). The aim was to determine who was responsible for the leaks and whether a case could be made against the culprit.
Van der Merwe earlier testified that O’Sullivan and Naidu came to the offices of RBP where she was working as a candidate attorney. She said during an interview O’Sullivan threatened her with incarceration and that she would not see her children again. She said she was taken against her will to O’Sullivan’s offices and only after she was able to contact Advocate Schalk van der Sandt to whom she earlier made protected disclosures and Van der Sandt intervened, was she released and taken back to the office.
O’Sullivan on Thursday testified that he was not aware at the time that Bobroff sometimes overcharged road accident victims he represented when claiming from the Road Accident Fund. Bobroff and his son Darren were scrapped from the roll of attorneys as a result of this, and have fled to Australia to escape prosecution.
O’Sullivan testified that Van der Merwe was identified as a possible source of the leaks. He arranged with Bobroff that he would interview her at the RBP offices and that her laptop would be switched off before the interview to prevent her from communicating with Moneyweb journalist Tony Beamish.
Beamish wrote a series of exposés about the Bobroffs’ unlawful practices.
According to O’Sullivan he introduced himself and Naidu at the beginning of the interview, Naidu handed her both their business cards, and he explained their mandate.
This contradicts Van der Merwe’s earlier testimony that she didn’t know who he was and, in fact, thought he was a police officer.
O’Sullivan in his defence submitted copies of emails sent and received by Van der Merwe, which he had obtained from Bobroff, and confronted her with these during the interview. He said from the emails he concluded there was a tripartite relationship between Van der Merwe, Beamish and attorney Anthony Millar with Beamish passing information between the other two.
O’Sullivan testified that Beamish, on the basis of the privileged information obtained from Van der Merwe, advised some of Bobroff’s former clients that they were being overcharged. He referred them to Millar who later sued Bobroff to refund the victims whom he then represented.
Van der Merwe initially denied having been in email contact with Beamish, but later admitted to everything O’Sullivan testified. Only after she admitted, did he point out to her that she has admitted to an offence, namely theft and that a complaint will be filed with the law society as well as criminal charges. She would stand in the dock with Beamish, he told her.
He said he told her that in his opinion as a single mother she would get a suspended sentence and escape a jail sentence, but would be unemployable as she stole from her employer.
O’Sullivan testified that he decided to take Van der Merwe’s statement containing her admissions at his office in Sandton since he had to fetch medication there in preparation for a medical appointment a bit later.
Van der Merwe travelled with him and Naidu to his office, O’Sullivan testified. He said on the way to the vehicle Van der Merwe passed reception and could have asked for help if she felt threatened, but she didn’t. He also denied her earlier testimony that Naidu sat with her at the back of the vehicle while he was behind the wheel.
O’Sullivan said it later became clear that en route to his office Van der Merwe her cell phone to contact Beamish and Van der Sandt.
At the office he offered Van der Merwe tea and something to eat as it was lunchtime and he testified that she jokingly asked for wine instead. This, he held as proof that she was “perfectly relaxed” at the time.
O’Sullivan testified that Van der Merwe did not eventually make a written statement at his office as he had hoped. A person who later proved to be Van der Sandt phoned her and she handed the phone to O’Sullivan. He couldn’t hear Van der Sandt and gave the phone back to Van der Merwe, stating that he could not involve a third party in an employment matter.
Van der Merwe then said she wanted the assistance of a lawyer in drafting her statement. Van der Sandt phoned again and O’Sullivan, after a short exchange, gave the phone back to Van der Merwe and told Naidu to take her back to her office. He denied that Van der Sandt ever used the word “kidnap” during the exchange.
O’Sullivan relied on an audio recording and transcript of the interview at Bobroff’s offices. He started to testify about a video recording of the events at his own office, when state prosecutor Advocate Jabulani Mlotshwa objected. He said the court earlier ruled the video inadmissible since the defence was unable to prove its authenticity.
Advocate Willie Vermeulen SC, who on Wednesday replaced Advocate Zirk Pansegrouw as O’Sullivan’s counsel, said he would like another chance to prove the authenticity and this was granted.
The trial will continue on Friday.