Symington charged by SARS for conduct, not whistle-blowing - court

Pretoria – SA Revenue Service (SARS) legal expert Vlok Symington, who was allegedly held hostage by the Hawks, was not charged by his employer for making disclosures, the High Court in Pretoria said in its ruling to dismiss Symington's application for an interim interdict against SARS. 

Judge Hans Fabricius on Friday ruled that Symington had failed to make a case for the interdict against a disciplinary process against him for misconduct. Symington was also ordered to pay costs.

In his urgent application last week, Symington told the court that he should be protected as a whistle-blower under the Protected Disclosures Act.

This after he previously made what he described as "protected disclosures" to police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and the National Prosecuting Authority relating to fraud charges against former finance minister Pravin Gordhan by the Hawks. 

In his judgment Fabricius said the disclosures made by Symington happened after a particular "altercation/scuffle in the office". Fabricius was referring to an incident in October 2016, during which Symington was allegedly held hostage by SARS commissioner Tom Moyane's personal bodyguard and several Hawks officers, and forced to hand over emails.

"In my view, the charges are not brought 'on account, or party on account of', having made a protected disclosure," his judgment read.

Handshake and a beer

Fabricius also said the alleged conflict between Symington and Moyane's personal bodyguard ought to have been settled with a handshake and a discussion over a beer.

The charges brought against Symington by SARS, which Symington approached the court to seek relief from, relate to the same October 18, 2016, incident.

These charges include gross misconduct, insubordination, use of foul language and bringing the name of SARS into disrepute.

Fabricius did also not seem to believe that Symington was unlawfully kidnapped. He said the conduct of Moyane's bodyguard and the Hawks officials was less than dignified, but that was about it.

He agreed with SARS that Symington was facing charges relating to his conduct, and not because he made disclosures.

Following the court judgment, SARS said it would proceed with disciplinary action against Symington. 

“SARS is of the view that the judgment vindicates the organisation’s long held view that the investigation and disciplinary action against Mr Symington was lawful and fair,” it said in s statement. “Thus SARS will continue with disciplinary action against Mr Symington.”

“It is a matter of public record that the alleged ‘hostage incident’ was reported widely and prominently in the media to perpetuate a narrative of Mr Symington’s political victimisation,” it said.

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