R388m tax bill for Cape ‘gangster’

Mark Lifman, one of South Africa’s biggest underworld bosses, possibly hoped for some help in his nearly R400?million tax battle against the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

City Press has learnt – from four independent sources – that Sars commissioner Tom Moyane was allegedly approached to go easy on Lifman because of his political connections.

A senior Sars official said Moyane was told “Lifman is an important man because of his money and influence and his proximity to powerful people. It was suggested that Moyane lean on the [Sars] team to go easy on Lifman and give him a deal.”

But the alleged request did not have the desired outcome – after an 18-month enquiry, Sars has handed Lifman a tax bill of R388?million.

Lifman is one of Cape Town’s richest and most feared underworld figures and a known associate of alleged druglord and Sexy Boys gang leader Jerome “Donkie” Booysen. Lifman also owns a string of properties and nightclubs throughout the city.

Lifman is known to have political connections. Last year, he was photographed by the Sunday Times at President Jacob Zuma’s birthday rally in Athlone, Cape Town, in the company of ANC provincial chairperson and member of the provincial legislature Marius Fransman. At Zuma’s birthday rally, Lifman sported a VIP access card.

Sars spokesperson Luther Lebelo declined to comment on the approach allegedly made to Moyane, saying: “You will appreciate that it will be impossible, if not unfair, for Sars to comment on conversations, private or business, the commissioner of Sars has with people.”

Two weeks ago, Lifman, represented in his tax inquiry by Advocate Barry Roux (of Oscar Pistorius-trial fame), was told the taxman was eyeing a R388?million chunk of his assets.

Revenue officials swooped on Lifman’s various high-end businesses at the Canal Walk, V&A Waterfront and Tyger Valley shopping malls last week, confiscating stock.

On Friday, Lifman launched an application in the Western Cape High Court to set aside Sars’ attachment. In his application, Lifman blames his tax woes on accountant Michael Felthun. (Felthun spent nine years in prison for killing one of his former business partners.)

In his papers, Lifman asks for his assets to be returned, as he wants to continue trading.

During the hearing, Lifman described himself as a “maverick businessman”, and likened himself to an early Johannesburg randlord. “I’m like Barney Barnato. I chase the gold, not taking much notice of what is in my path to get there. So I will go off the beaten track to get there?...?Does that make sense to you? I am spontaneous,” Lifman told investigators.

Documents in City Press’ possession reveal the Lifman inquiry started in 2013 when Sars’ tax- and customs-enforcement investigations division began looking into him for alleged tax evasion, believing him to be “well connected and associated with organised crime, tobacco smuggling and gangs in the Western Cape”.

In a lengthy document written by suspended Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay – and filed as part of his labour court hearing against Sars – Pillay wrote: “Sars officials involved in the [Lifman] case have received several death threats recently and one official’s home was burgled. The home of one of the personnel contracted by Sars to deal with the Lifman inquiry was also burgled and only laptops [were] stolen.”

One of the investigators, Pillay wrote, received an SMS saying he “will not see Christmas”.

In a hard-hitting assessment letter to Lifman, Sars accuses him of lying about his assets and going to extraordinary measures to hide the true extent of his wealth from the taxman.

“Sars is satisfied the turnovers declared by the taxpayer [Lifman] for the 2003 to 2013 tax periods do not reflect the true and correct taxable income earned by [Lifman],” Sars officials wrote.

Lifman now faces a 200% penalty for “intentional tax evasion” and being “obstructive”.

Lifman’s financial assets – including more than 100 accounts at four different banks, trendy clothing stores, an extensive property portfolio and at least 14 luxury vehicles – put him under the Sars spotlight.

According to documents City Press has seen, Lifman stands to lose a chunk of his assets to the taxman, including:

.?A portfolio of more than 100 properties. He also sold more than 80 properties registered in the name of third parties in an effort – Sars believes – to avoid his tax obligations;

.?His The Embassy Gentlemen’s Club, a brothel, which holds a bank account with more than R22?million;

.?At least 14 luxury vehicles, including three Porsche Cayennes valued at about R1?million each; and

.?His holiday home in Clanwilliam, Western Cape.

City Press has learnt that more than 90 witnesses testified at Lifman’s tax inquiry.

One of them is the owner of a multimillion-rand luxury home, who borrowed money from Lifman via a diamond-dealing operation.

In a sworn statement, the man said Lifman threatened to kill him, his wife and son unless his wife signed ownership of their R5?million home over to Lifman to defray his debt.

Sars is penalising Lifman for a number of infringements, including tax evasion, failing to submit tax returns, making false disclosures and instructing his tax advisers to miscalculate his tax.

Lifman’s assessment letter reveals Sars holds him personally responsible for the nearly R400?million in outstanding taxes. Sars wants the entire amount from him.

City Press tried to contact Lifman for comment on numerous occasions through Roux and his attorney Pierre Smit. None of the parties was forthcoming.

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