Max du Preez

Zuma, Guptas at the heart of SARS rot

2017-09-19 09:29
Sars commissioner Tom Moyane. (File, City Press)

Sars commissioner Tom Moyane. (File, City Press)

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Tom Moyane must have learnt this trick from his old friend and comrade, Jacob Zuma: look the nation in the eye and lie with a straight face.

The theory is that if you do it right, unflinchingly and with great conviction, at least some people will think there’s got to be some truth in what you’re saying. 

It has worked for many with Zuma, but will it work with the SARS commissioner?

To its own deep embarrassment, the auditing firm KPMG says its findings and recommendations on the now disbanded elite investigative unit at SARS are flawed and “should no longer be relied upon”. They apologise and offer to pay back the money SARS paid them for the report.

No, Commissioner Moyane tells the authors of the report, your findings and recommendations were not flawed. On the contrary, we loved it. 

He could have added: KPMG’s only mistake was to say its own report was flawed.

Moyane goes on, with mock outrage: How dare they do this to a report that we paid for and now own the intellectual property rights to? Sue them, blacklist them!

Pile on more lies. 

Under his leadership, SARS has done better than before, surpassing its targets, he says.

And yet there is proof that SARS is in a mess; that Moyane himself had rid it of its capacity to go after the big tax dodgers.

Several of the high-level fraudsters and tax criminals who were cornered by what KPMG termed the “rogue unit” owed the state hundreds of millions of rands, but under Moyane their files were closed or quietly disappeared.

Let’s remind ourselves of the facts.

In 2007 SARS formed a special, highly skilled investigations unit to nail big crooks and tax evaders – like cigarette smugglers. Former Constitutional Court judge Johann Kriegler later called the unit “highly efficient, professional, independent of political control and squeaky clean” with a “formidable” track record.

It was inevitable in the course of executing its mandate that the unit would come across the financial affairs of President Jacob Zuma, at least one of his sons and several of his wealthy benefactors.

The minute the unit’s investigators started sniffing around these dark corners, a massive propaganda campaign was unleashed against them, with state security playing a leading role. Yes, state security.

They chose the Sunday Times as their vehicle and the paper carried the most outrageous stories without naming sources, leading to the resignation of one of its investigative journalists, Pearlie Joubert.

(You will remember that the newspaper eventually owned up that what they had published as fact was vicious, planted slander and they apologised.)

Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane was appointed to look into the gossip and rumour-mongering around the unit and according to SARS officials, his focus shifted significantly after Moyane was appointed commissioner of SARS in October 2014.

Nobody testified under oath to Sikhakhane and the members of the unit were never confronted with the charges or given an opportunity to explain. One of the founders of the unit, Peter Richer, wasn't even informed of the investigation.

And yet Sikhakhane found that there was prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.

Perhaps Moyane realised that this report wasn’t worth much, so in February 2015 he appointed an advisory board led by retired judge Frank Kroon to review all the evidence.

Members of the investigative unit pleaded with Kroon to listen to their side of the story, but he didn’t even respond to them, never interviewed anybody and after looking at the documentation, supported the Sikhakhane report.

Again, this had little credibility, so Moyane appointed KPMG to investigate. 

The KPMG investigators also refused to interview members of the unit or those who founded it and brought out a damning report – the same report of which the “conclusions, recommendations and legal opinions” KPMG now says “should no longer be relied upon.”

There is an old joke among auditing firms that when they’re getting a commission, the first question to the client is: what do you want us to find?

Sikhakhane, Kroon and KPMG took this joke literally.

They were either told or they read between the lines that their job was to neutralise the pesky specialist tax investigators who had annoyed the president and his buddies, and that was exactly what they did in exchange for large sums of money.

Everybody involved in this whole drama knew where the president of the Republic stood on the matter of the elite SARS investigators.

And this is the key: Zuma and his inner circle, and that includes the Guptas, have dominated South Africa with absolute impunity for years now with the help of the security establishment, and people danced to their tune. 

It has become the new normal.

Moyane said yesterday that it didn’t bother him at all that the people who stand accused of criminal activities have never been given a chance to explain what they were doing, how they were doing it and what they never did do.

Some of the people who had their lives, their reputations and their jobs destroyed by this callous campaign to protect the president and his friends begged KPMG after the report was published for the chance to point out its errors and supply it with explanations and documents. 

They were given no chance.

KPMG didn’t even have the basic decency to also apologise to these people and clear their names after they admitted their report was false.

By the end of 2015, 55 senior employees had left SARS.

One of the unit’s leading figures, Johann van Loggerenberg, has in the meantime unpacked the whole saga in a best-selling book, Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit.

Bell Pottinger, a once mighty public relations firm, is on the ropes after their shady dealings with the Guptas were highlighted. It is unlikely that KPMG International would do anything to save its South African company, and it is losing clients by the day.

If Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba listens to Moyane’s recommendation, all KPMG’s remaining state contracts will also end.

The people of South Africa have smelled blood with the public shaming of Bell Pottinger and KPMG. Hopefully global management consulting company McKinsey is next.

The fight against corruption and state capture is gaining significant momentum and should be intensified.

Parliament, the elected representatives of the people of South Africa, is in a strong position to do this.

Parliament’s standing committees on finance and on public accounts should urgently force the SARS top management and the fired top executives of KPMG to appear before them.

MPs should be well prepared, otherwise Moyane et al. will also look them in the eye and lie with great sincerity.

If MPs don’t understand the subject matter or don’t have the relevant documents, they should ask the handful of brave, brilliant investigative journalists without whom we would know very little about these scandals.

Zuma, his Rottweilers in state security, intelligence and the Hawks, state capturers and blind loyalists like Moyane, rather than the hired guns at Bell Pottinger and KPMG, are the real enemies of our democracy and the growth potential of our economy.

It is time for some of these people to be sent to small rooms in orange overalls.

If our criminal justice system functioned properly, this would have happened a long time ago.

We must now push harder.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    tom moyane  |  rogue unit  |  sars investigation
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