New 'rogue-type unit' operating at SARS

2016-11-14 06:36
Sars building in Krugersdorp. (Website)

Sars building in Krugersdorp. (Website)

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Johannesburg - The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has been accused of setting up another "rogue unit" to dig up dirt on Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and former employees linked to the "old rogue unit".

News24 can reveal that the team, including senior SARS employees Gobi Makhanya and Yegan Mundie, have allegedly been tasked with conducting an "undercover" investigation into Gordhan and the now defunct National Research Group (NRG), that was infamously dubbed a "rogue unit" by the Sunday Times.

Makhanya was previously heading investigations for SARS in KwaZulu-Natal and Mundie works at the anti-corruption unit in Pretoria.

Six inside sources have told News24 that SARS employees have been moved up to the head office in Pretoria to work in the anti-corruption and security unit. Under its previous head Clifford Collins, the unit looked at internal allegations of corruption within SARS as well as any breach of policy. 

According to insiders, members of this unit are now looking into Gordhan and former employees such as deputy SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay, his special advisor Yolisa Pikie and former head of the NRG, Johann van Loggerenberg. 

"Their task is to look at anything and everything humanly possible to make the former employees look bad," said one source who did not want to be identified. 

The new unit is now being accused of illegally using undercover methods to gather evidence – the same complaint levelled at the disbanded NRG.

The team has been accused of trawling through old emails, tracing computers that had been used by the former employees as well as using tax laws to access bank accounts. 

The allegations are also that the team uses SIM cards that are not registered under Rica to speak to each other and are in contact with police officials using these phones. 

'Not true'

SARS has denied that a new covert unit is operating at the tax body.

"There is no truth in the allegation that Commissioner Moyane or SARS has established an undercover investigative team to investigate the alleged rogue unit," SARS responded.

"As you are aware, this allegation regarding the said unit was subjected to both legal and forensic investigations, the report of which is in the hands of the Hawks and NPA."  

At the beginning of the month, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) head Shaun Abrahams told Parliament that an investigation into the so-called rogue unit was at an advanced stage. 

In August, News24 revealed that SARS had launched a forensic probe into deals concluded when Gordhan was commissioner.

The tax authority appointed accounting firm Grant Thornton to conduct a forensic investigation into its modernisation and technology programme, which was implemented between 2007 and 2014. Gordhan was SARS commissioner from 1999 until 2009.

The programme saw SARS adopt new software and IT systems, such as its e-filing platform and its electronic system for customs payments.

The Grant Thornton probe was known within SARS as "Project Lion".

Gordhan's attorney Tebogo Malatji said they had not heard of these new investigations into Gordhan and they were still waiting for a formal indication by the Hawks and NPA regarding the criminal case.

Pillay said he had not "officially heard anything" about the current investigations within SARS and would not comment further.

Amicable resignation

Van Loggerenberg said when he resigned from SARS in February 2015 he did so amicably and would like to give Moyane the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.

"I do not wish to cast aspersions on persons in the manner as has been done to me and many of my former SARS colleagues," Van Loggerenberg said. 

He said he was aware of efforts "by what appears to be a handful of people (some within SARS and some from elsewhere), who still seem to be desperately trying to find any bit of information that they can use to cast negative aspersions on many of us who have left SARS since 2014".

Van Loggerenberg said his conscience was clear and he feared nothing in this regard.

"My track record as a civil servant should speak for itself. I guess time will have to ultimately tell what exactly motivates these people to spend so much of the state's limited resources in pursuing what is clearly a narrow agenda."

He said he has not been contacted by SARS, but he invited them, "in particular those who seem so interested in my past at SARS,” to pick up the phone and call him. 

He said that if it was true that these investigations were taking place, it was his view that these "backroom type, scope-creeping inquisitions" did not belong in a constitutional democracy. 

'Disinformation campaign'

"If indeed SARS officials are conducting an investigation into me, that is not tax, customs or excise-related, and if indeed they have been accessing my personal information, I believe this to be illegal and unlawful. 

"Insofar as my personal interactions with the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority, I can only echo what NPA head Abrahams has publicly stated: Much of the confusion and misinformation floating about can be fairly easily resolved through meaningful engagement and a more thorough investigation of the matter by the Hawks. 

"I am, for instance, aware of at least three criminal cases registered with the South African Police Service (SAPS) in Durban, Johannesburg and Midrand, which, if carefully considered within the context of the entire SARS saga, will provide insight to the Hawks on the disinformation campaign that's been directed at SARS since as early as May 2014 onwards. 

"These cases identify some of the antagonists behind these attacks on SARS, provide evidence of their motives and modus operandi and their own criminal conduct which we uncovered and they subsequently sought to suppress," Van Loggerenberg said.

Read more on:    sars  |  pravin gordhan  |  tom moyane  |  rogue unit

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