Gordhan: Sars can legally conduct criminal probes

Cape Town – The South African Revenue Service (Sars) has a legal mandate to perform enforcement and criminal investigations, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Friday.
In a written response to Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier, Gordhan said according to information provided to him by Sars there are 1 599 enforcement auditors who conduct enforcement investigations, and 381 criminal investigators.

Maynier asked whether Sars conducts enforcement investigations and criminal investigations - and who is responsible for these probes - as well as what legal authority Sars has to conduct them.

“Within the current Sars structure there are group executives responsible for the investigative capacity,” Gordhan replied, citing Sars information. “These group executives report directly to respective chief officers.

“Unfortunately we cannot provide names of these officials for their safety due to the nature of their work,” Gordhan said, without verifying the information.

The answers come as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, or the Hawks, probes an investigation unit within Sars which was allegedly a “rogue unit”.

Gordhan told the Hawks in March that the unit was an essential part of Sars’ enforcement strategy “as it is with most tax and customs administrations globally”.

"In respect of the legality of the investigation unit established during my time as commissioner of the South African Revenue Service, I believed that the unit was lawfully established to perform very important functions for and on behalf of Sars.

“The unit did not initially have a name but was later successively known as the Special Projects Unit, the National Research Group and the High-Risk Investigations Unit.

“I participated in the decision to establish the unit in February 2007.”

FULL STATEMENT: Gordhan responds to Hawks

On Friday, Gordhan said that in terms of the Sars Act, Sars is legally mandated and authorised to conduct both enforcement and criminal investigations in order to collect all moneys due to the fiscus, and to combat non-compliance and tax evasion.

The Sars Act makes the commissioner responsible for the formation and development of an efficient administration and the effective deployment and utilisation of staff to achieve maximum operational results, Gordhan said.

“Furthermore, in terms of the Tax Administration Act... Sars is mandated to perform such investigations.”   

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