Who suppressed evidence in SARS boss Ivan Pillay’s NPA retirement spat?

Serious questions have been raised over the possible suppression of exculpatory evidence that cleared former SA Revenue Service (SARS) officials of wrongdoing in the early retirement payout to former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.

Pillay appeared before the commission of inquiry into wide-ranging issues at the tax collector and spoke briefly on charges brought against him, former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and former SARS commissioner Oupa Magashule in 2016, relating to Pillay’s early pension payout in 2011.

Pillay required the funds for personal reasons, Gordhan told the inquiry on Tuesday.

Retired judge Robert Nugent, who is heading the inquiry, said he had written to the national director of public prosecutions Adv. Shaun Abrahams to seek clarity on whether or not legal opinions sought surrounding the payout, absolving those involved of criminality, ever reached the prosecution team.

A memo by former SARS head of legal Vlok Symington, authored in 2011, was one of the documents that forced Abrahams into a much publicized withdrawal of the charges.

On Thursday at the tax inquiry it emerged that SARS commissioned another legal opinion in 2014 – shortly after Moyane’s appointment – which again green-lighted the payout.

Gordhan testified on Tuesday over extensive measures he took to ascertain the legal ramifications of the payout in 2011 – but charges were still brought against him and Pillay.  

Nugent told Pillay that, to the commission’s knowledge, acting commissioner Mark Kingon only became aware of the 2014 opinion in May this year.

“I can only assume that these documents were added to my perssonel file,” Pillay said.

“Which to my knowledge was kept in commissioner Moyane’s safe in his office,” he added.

Nugent confirmed that Abrahams had responded by confirming that the documentation and the docket would be made available to the commission – but quizzed Pillay on why he believed the documents never reached the prosecution team.

Pillay said he suspected it was a concerted effort to “suppress evidence”.

Evidence leader Adv. Carol Steinberg confirmed it would be “one of the issues” the commission would be looking into.

Rogue unit

Pillay’s testimony also touched on the genesis of the so-called rogue unit – and how SARS had approached the then National Intelligence Agency (now State Security Agency) to host the unit in its ranks – due to a long-standing deficiency in SARS’ lack of intelligence capabilities.

But the NIA venture failed.

“Things can go wrong,” Pillay said, while denying that the unit broke the law in conducting its work.

“They did excellent work,” he said.

Former SARS spokesperson Adrian Lackay was the final witness before the inquiry on Thursday and told the commission how, in the months after Moyane’s appointment, he was increasingly sidelined.

Lackay told the inquiry that he was aware of at least three occasions where SARS misled the public in statements – surrounding the departure of former chief operations officer Barry Hore in December 2014 and the resignation of Pillay in early 2015.

Lackay left SARS after his relationship with Moyane broke down to a point where he says he was no longer comfortable fielding calls from the media, due to the lack of information available to him.

The inquiry is due to continue on Friday  - with Moyane expected to appear first to make submissions to the panel – specifically surrounding concerns over a conflict of interest for panel member, Prof. Michael Katz, who Moyane argues acted for President Cyril Rampahosa in the past.

Moyane is also expected to seek a ruling that the commission steers clear of issues that may crop up in his disciplinary proceedings.

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