Ex-Sars officials welcome Press Ombud's ruling against Sunday Times

Durban - Former Sars officials, Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg, have welcomed the ruling by the Press Ombudsman that ordered the Sunday Times to retract and apologise for an article published in 2014 on a Sars "rogue spy unit".

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were suspended from Sars pending investigations into the allegations of a "rogue unit", but later resigned. On Sunday, former Sars commissioner, Pravin Gordhan, was reappointed to the position of the country’s finance minister, a position he held after his term at the tax authority.

In a statement, the pair said the paper had been "advancing a tenacious campaign" that tarnished the reputation of Sars, their reputations as former Sars officials, and even the reputation of Gordhan.

"We argued that such reportage - including the serious allegations that we established and operated an illegal 'rogue unit' that spied on taxpayers, broke into President Jacob Zuma’s home and planted listening devices, and operated a 'brothel' - was manifestly untrue and was driven by malicious intent," it read.

Locked into a particular narrative

"In certain cases, the Sunday Times relied on unsubstantiated and untested internal documents from within Sars. Instead of seeking substantiation of these allegations, the Sunday Times opted to report on them verbatim.

"It is clear, when having regard to the entire series of articles since August 2014, that the Sunday Times locked themselves into a particular narrative that was advanced to them and that the newspaper was unwilling to consider anything contrary to this."

The two said they were in the process of lodging further complaints against the Sunday Times for articles published in December of this year.

The Sunday Times was found to be in breach of the Press Code and the Ombudsman’s ruling ordered the paper to retract all stories about its Sars "rogue unit saga" and to publicly apologise, in writing, to the three men they had implicated.

Earlier this month, an explosive affidavit was presented before the Ombudsman by  former Sunday Times journalist Pearlie Joubert, who claimed she had resigned from the newspaper in February because she was "not willing to be party to practices at the Sunday Times which I verily believed to have been unethical and immoral". 

The parties involved now have seven days to appeal the Ombudsman’s ruling.

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