2 Sars execs iced

2014-12-07 18:30

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New SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane has begun a cleanup of the revenue service at the highest level by suspending two top officials.

This came in the wake of a panel of inquiry into a rogue unit.

The panel, headed by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, has finally admitted that Sars has been running a rogue intelligence unit that might have conducted illegal investigations.

On Friday, Moyane suspended deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and Peter Richer, the group executive for strategic planning and risk. Both were in charge of the intelligence division.

Pillay has consistently insisted the unit is a national research group and doesn’t have capacity to conduct intelligence operations.

The revenue service has no legal mandate to conduct intelligence. Only the State Security Agency, the police and the army are empowered by law to conduct intelligence operations.

Pillay and Richer are the highest ranking officials at Sars to have been suspended following the furore sparked by allegations the revenue agency had spied on top politicians, including President Jacob Zuma.

The Sikhakhane inquiry found that:

.?The establishment of the unit without having the requisite statutory authority was unlawful;

.?The unlawful establishment of a unit that operated in a covert manner had created a climate of intrigue, fear and subterfuge at Sars;

.?There is prima facie evidence the unit might have abused its power and resources by engaging in the activities of other agencies of government;

.?There is prima facie evidence the recruitment, funding and practices of the unit were in violation of Sars’s own human resources policy; and

.?There is evidence suggesting the activities of the

unit might have included rogue behaviour that had the potential to damage Sars’s reputation.

Last month, Moyane stripped the Sars executive committee – its top management structure – of its advisory role, saying he would in future deal with each senior manager individually.

These were the first signs of his intention to clean up the top structure of the revenue service.

Allegations of a rogue spy unit first emerged following a love-gone-sour tale involving suspended group executive Johann van Loggenberg and Belinda Walter, an attorney who represented a small tobacco company.

Walter has since been accused of spying for both the State Security Agency and tobacco giant British American Tobacco. She was under investigation by Sars for possible tax evasion.

In the affidavit, Van Loggenberg denies sharing sensitive information with her but admits he had assisted her in sorting out her tax affairs.

Quoting from Sikhakhane’s findings, Moyane pointed out the suspensions stem from the fact that the inquiry found that those managers who gave evidence before it had lied about the existence of the intelligence unit.

“Even when the panel later confirmed its existence through other sources, some of the relevant witnesses within Sars’s management presented what seemed like a rehearsed narrative, whose object may have been first to mislead the panel, and second to present the existence of such a unit in a positive and lawful light.”

Pillay gave a detailed submission to the panel, in

which he insists Sars followed all legal prescripts in establishing the “group” and that it never conducted any intelligence. He said it worked closely with other law enforcement agencies when it uncovered incidents of a criminal nature.

“None of the units ever purchased, procured or utilised any equipment that could have been used for covert collection of intelligence,” Pillay told the inquiry.

The inquiry has recommended the intelligence units in Sars be disbanded and that all personnel “be debriefed, protected from intimidation and be reintegrated into Sars official and civilian structures”.

It also recommended Sars conduct a forensic investigation into settlements concluded with taxpayers that had been under investigation since 2005.

Responding to his suspension, Pillay said: “I look forward to the opportunity to challenge any allegation against me of unlawful conduct, misconduct and impropriety based on Sars policies. At all times I have served in government, I have done so in line with the pursuit of our democratic ideals. I have always acted to advance and promote the spirit and goals of our Constitution and I have endeavoured to adhere to the prescripts of the laws that underpin the Constitution.”

According to him, Sars was one of the best state institutions and had always acted without political considerations. He said he would cooperate with processes that will follow his suspension.

“It is incumbent on all that have the country’s interests at heart to act in a way that strengthens rather than weaken Sars. On my part, I will cooperate in a manner that advances the country’s good with whatever processes the commissioner sets in place,” said Pillay.

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