Sars man: the undercover cop who came in from the cold

2014-08-17 06:00

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SA Revenue Service (Sars) group executive Johan van Loggenberg is the proverbial spy who came in from the cold.

He doesn’t answer questions about where he was during the 1990s, when SA broke free of apartheid and became a democracy. He doesn’t pose for photographs and has asked judges to rule that pictures of him can’t be published with newspaper articles.

But his cover, so to speak, has been blown in the past week after he emerged at the centre of a story about rogue State Security Agency (SSA) spies operating in the agency’s Special Operations Unit.

It was the decline of his relationship with Pretoria attorney and state agent Belinda Walter that blew the lid on the unit.

Walter told the Sunday Times last week that Van Loggenberg was a “trained, deep-cover operative” in the police known as Agent RS536.

The Sunday Times labelled him a “former apartheid undercover police agent”, although he was only 21 when former president FW de Klerk announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the ANC on February 2 1990.

Walter called Van Loggenberg a pathological liar that “groomed” her “in the same manner as a paedophile grooms a child” and said that Sars misrepresents the spelling of his name.

He is Van Loggerenberg, she said, not Van Loggenberg – the latter is the name both he and Sars use.

This week, he admitted to City Press: “I was Agent RS536 and yes, I was born Van Loggerenberg.”

Mystery man

To his colleagues at Sars, he’s the man who’s pursued alleged mobsters like Radovan Krejcír and Glenn Agliotti, white-collar crooks like Dave King and Billy Rautenbach and EFF leader Julius Malema, trying to recover millions of rands in taxes.

His CV labels him as the head of projects, evidence management and technical support at Sars, where he has been working for 14 years. It says he holds a post-graduate degree in management from Wits and a LLB from the University of the Free State.

But what of his life before that?

His colleagues and acquaintances speculate a lot about who he was during the years he never speaks of.

Reacting to Walter’s allegation, Van Loggenberg told City Press he was indeed a policeman in the 90s – deeply undercover and infiltrating syndicates.

“I worked undercover against organised crime – that was at the time on the rise in our young democracy,” he said. “It’s something I prefer not to talk about publicly.”

A life undercover

In 1991, the police formed Organised Crime Intelligence Units (OCIU) around the country to gain intelligence for various specialised units. Van Loggenberg had to develop a persona that would mimic a successful criminal’s and eventually give him access to syndicates and gangs.

The OCIU called him a “long-term, deep-cover agent.”

“Please don’t glamorise me as a James Bond. There are too many memories that are painful and traumatic.”

He was deployed in KwaZulu-Natal and started living in a boarding establishment. The police didn’t provide him with operational funding, to avoid raising suspicion. He started off selling second-hand clothing and branded caps from a flea market.

Over the years, he drove a taxi, became a driver for brothels, bought and sold second-hand goods, traded in wine and was a partner in a well-known nightclub.

His methodology was simply to be at the right time, at the right place and with the right people.

It worked. He gained access to a major drug syndicate with roots in Brazil and the Netherlands.

He says he never participated in trafficking himself, but had to befriend the smugglers, stay close to them and send intelligence to his handler.

City Press spoke to that handler, a former senior organised crime cop with vast experience. He didn’t want his name to be published.

“Johan lost contact with his family. I was his father, his mother, his brother and his sister. Nobody knows what it was like to live a lie for 24 hours a day.

“He was on his own with no friends, no family, nothing. He was dealing with ruthless people and his exposure could mean death.”

Van Loggenberg stayed in the OCIU until 1999 when it was closed down.

“It had a massive psychological impact on me,” said Van Loggenberg.

“I was lonely and it becomes hard to snitch on someone when you discover they’re not all bad. This leads to second thoughts, depression, guilt and thoughts of suicide.”

One of his best friends, who was also a deep-cover agent and the one person he could “connect” with, committed suicide.

“If I had to do it over again, knowing what I know now and the price I would pay – I wouldn’t have done it.”

He says he has undergone intense therapy.

Returning to the real world

After Van Loggenberg was demobilised, his police bosses assigned him to assist with investigations with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for a short while.

Someone approached him and suggested he should meet with newly appointed Sars commissioner Pravin Gordhan, who was transforming the tax service into one that could deal with a growing number of sophisticated tax evaders and money launderers. He had identified the illicit economy as a big part of the tax gap.

Gordhan wanted an intelligence unit and Van Loggenberg was his man.

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