Former SARS enforcement executive Johann van Loggerenberg has reacted to bombshell testimony by retired Judge Frank Kroon that the High Risk Investigations Unit (HRIU), or the rogue unit, as it became known, was in fact lawfully established.
Van Loggerenberg was the head of the unit from 2008 until his departure from SARS in early 2015.
Judge Kroon was testifying before the Nugent Commission of Inquiry on Friday. The commission was established to get to the bottom of governance issues at SARS.
In March 2015, he was appointed to head up an advisory committee that was mandated to look into several issues at SARS, including the then organisational structure; and to advise the finance minister on long-term strategies for SARS. It became known as the Kroon Advisory Board.
The Kroon Advisory Board issued a public statement saying the unit had been established unlawfully and had committed "unlawful acts".
Unit 'should be reopened'
But on Friday Kroon conceded that it was a mistake to conclude that the HRIU was unlawful.
Judge Kroon said the board had relied on input from suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane's report and a KPMG report – parts of which have now been withdrawn – that indicated the unit was unlawful.
Kroon even went so far as to state that he would personally recommend that the unit be reopened.
The panel consisted of Advocate Selby Mbenenge, Mmakgolo Maponya, Bonga Mokoena, Adv Rudolph Mastenbroek, Jonas Makwakwa and Matsobane Matlwa, the former SARS chief financial officer.
In 2014 and 2015 the Sunday Times ran a series of articles over alleged illegal intelligence gathering by the unit, including planting bugs in former President Jacob Zuma’s home. The newspaper has published an apology for "getting some things wrong" with the stories.
Van Loggerenberg featured prominently in the reportage.
"I have noted the testimony of Judge Kroon under oath before the SARS Commission of Inquiry, four years later, after the fact. I would like to firstly thank Judge Kroon for making the concessions he did, albeit late in the day, and only because of the existence of the Commission," Van Loggerenberg told News24 on Friday.
"It was probably not easy to do so. Having said this, I believe Judge Kroon should have spoken out sooner. As jurist, he didn't need a Commission of Inquiry to have to do so. But as my mother always said: 'better late than never'."
Unit 'did a great service'
Van Loggerenberg said he believed Kroon’s testimony went some way toward vindicating the 26 officials who were part of the unit at different stages and who were tarred and feathered "incessantly".
"I hope this brings some peace to them, their families and friends. I hope it brings an end to the referral to the unit as 'rogue' or 'so-called rogue'. The handful officials of that unit did the country a great service to make it better for all that live in it, under difficult circumstances and with little resources at hand."
He believed that Kroon’s apology to Minister Pravin Gordhan should be extended to all others who were "harmed".
"I wrote to him [Kroon] on two occasions during 2015, asking to be heard. One such request was simply ignored, and the second warranting the reply ‘I shall revert if necessary’. Judge Kroon never reverted to me and I must assume that at the time and ever since then, he did not consider doing so as necessary."
Van Loggerenberg added that he could assist Kroon with the contact details of the other 26 people and their families who were harmed as a result of the Kroon Advisory Board statement "should [he] be inclined to consider apologising to them too".
"I call upon the other members of the Kroon Advisory Board to follow their former chairperson and do what is right. You owe it to the country and its citizens and those harmed. Above all, you owe it to yourselves as professionals," Van Loggerenberg said.
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