Tycoon hits back at SARS

2014-02-19 00:00

TOBACCO company boss Yusuf Kajee has hit back against the South African Revenue Services (SARS), saying he intends laying criminal charges against them for allegedly “leaking confidential documents”.

Kajee hit back this week following a weekend newspaper report that alleged he and his former business partner, Edward Zuma, President Jacob Zuma’s son, were involved in a raging battle with SARS.

Kajee’s company, Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturers (ATM), the first black-owned tobacco company, that operates out of Mkondeni in Pietermaritzburg, has now accused SARS of a smear campaign.

Kajee said since he started his business he had been repeatedly targeted by the taxman in an attempt, he claimed, to curtail his inroads into the highly competitive tobacco industry.

He alleged that officials claiming to belong to SARS had wanted to install video cameras on his premises, had taken photographs of his factory operations, harassed his workers and detained them, and made false allegations about the legitimacy of his imported machines, among other accusations.

“It’s all about a small business like mine making a mark in a big business world,” he said.

“It’s like people having a choice between Prada and Gucci [meaning the big tobacco companies] and then Mr Price [meaning his company]. That’s all we are doing — offering a lower-priced cigarette to the ordinary man on the street,” said Kajee.

He said as a result of several raids at his factory, he had beefed up security.

He also admitted that his security guards were armed with paintball guns and were instructed to use them.

Kajee was reacting to a report in which a Sunday Tribune journalist alleged she and a photographer were shot at by ATM security guards when they attempted to take pictures of his business premises.

“We are now referring this matter to the police for further investigation regarding the leaks from your offices. So much for SARS boasting from time to time of the secrecy caveat,” reads the lawyer’s letter sent to SARS from ATM.

At the centre of the row is a private and confidential dossier sent to the former SARS commissioner Oupa Magashula.

The dossier, outlining why ATM believed it was being targeted, was compiled by Zuma, who was then a director in the company.

Zuma resigned as a director in November 2011 but remained as a shareholder until he completely disengaged from ATM in May 2012.

SARS, however, poured cold water on Kajee’s theory saying, “The matters alluded to in the dossier were properly investigated and considered and found to lack substance at the time.”

SARS spokesperson Adrian Lackay said that the tobacco industry was fraught with rumours, accusations and active attempts to discredit people, businesses and institutions.

“There are many agendas at play together with various commercial interests, combined with the desire of certain entities to avoid, at all costs, the consequences of their non-compliant actions,” said Lackay.

He said SARS had evidence of how certain people were passing off false or misleading information as fact to other law enforcement agencies and the media in an attempt to serve “hidden agendas of third parties”.

Lackay also confirmed that according to their records, “Edward Zuma no longer has any financial or business interest in ATM”.

“Of concern to SARS is how the dossier, together with recent confidential exchanges between SARS and ATM, were presented to the media to create a particular perception which is devoid of the truth.”

Lackay said that SARS was unaware of any charge against them by ATM.

He confirmed that since the recent media reports, they had been in discussions with ATM and Zuma’s attorneys.

“The interactions have not been acrimonious at all,” he said.

The spokesperson said SARS was concerned, however, about how information was passed on and published “with a view to create certain impressions that may not always speak to the truth of matters”.

He said while SARS denied having made any confidential information regarding ATM available to a third party, he urged ATM to conduct their own investigation into how the documents were leaked.

Lackay confirmed that ATM replied to their December 6, 2013 request for information on Friday.

Kajee said while that request, which accused ATM of non-specified criminal activity, was due on January 25, they had been granted an extension until February 14, which they fulfilled.

He said in that response they would not be furnishing SARS with any evidence or details until they knew exactly what the allegations against them were.

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