Cape Town - A bizarre series of events involving alleged Cape Town underworld figure Mark Lifman’s R400m tax bill has exposed deep fault lines at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).
News24 can reveal that SARS officials are at war over an alleged "review" of Lifman’s tax bill, as part of tax boss Tom Moyane’s new "rogue unit" that is supposedly investigating the involvement of SARS employees in criminal activities.
City Press reported in April 2015 that Moyane was under pressure to drop Lifman’s tax bill because of his political connections, particularly to former ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman. Lifman was also a VIP guest at President Jacob Zuma’s birthday rally in Cape Town in 2014.
Lifman is known as a feared and wealthy Cape businessman who owns multiple properties, clubs, and a string of bank accounts. He was served with a R388m tax bill by SARS in 2015 after an inquiry into his assets and businesses under Project All Out.
A business rescue application for one of his businesses in the Western Cape High Court has now exposed an ugly tug-of-war between senior SARS officials.
R388m tax bill
On the one side is the original SARS investigation team who spent years tracking down Lifman’s assets and businesses. Their efforts culminated in the R388m tax bill.
On the other side is the new team, led by senior investigators Yegan Mundie and Gobi Makhanya, who are allegedly investigating the involvement of SARS employees in the illicit tobacco trade.
News24 revealed the existence of the new unit last week. After initially denying its existence, Moyane confirmed it in a letter to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan on Tuesday.
"The SARS officials’ mandate is only in as far as it relates to SARS employees involved in alleged criminal activities and tax matters. The team operates in SARS offices and are known in SARS that they are targeting criminal syndicates in SARS," Moyane wrote to Gordhan.
It is unclear at what stage, and why, the unit got involved in Lifman’s tax assessment, how this relates to the illicit tobacco trade, and which SARS employees are being investigated.
Threatened to interdict SARS
On November 3, SARS auditor Gavin Cairns wrote an email to Lifman, starting with "Good day Mark", in which he thanks the underworld figure for a meeting with SARS. "As mentioned, I have been tasked to attend to the review of the recent audit SARS conducted on your group companies," Cairns wrote to Lifman.
Mundie and SARS employee Waseem Jacobs were copied on the email.
In the email, Cairns tells Lifman that a review will be carried out at his offices in January 2017.
At the same time, the original Lifman investigative team is trying to block Lifman’s efforts to place Seasons Find 764 – one of Lifman’s entities – under business rescue. The case is scheduled to be heard by the court on Monday.
In court papers filed last week, it is revealed that Lifman - through attorney Asger Gani - has threatened to interdict SARS from continuing with its efforts to liquidate the businessman’s companies.
"Our client (Lifman) has now been formally advised that a review has been authorised and is being conducted of the entire group tax affairs. Our client has this confirmation in writing," Gani told SARS attorneys MacRobert, who is acting on behalf of the revenue service in the business rescue matter.
"With this in mind, all execution processes and/or legal proceedings must immediately be halted, pending the finalisation of the review," Gani wrote.
'All I want is that I’m treated fairly'
Gani asked for confirmation that all upcoming matters pertaining to Lifman would be removed from the court roll.
SARS, through attorney Dirk Pietersen, responded that "neither our offices, nor our client’s representatives are aware of any 'authorisation' and/or decision to 'review' the 'tax findings', 'liabilities' and/or assessments relating to Mr Lifman".
Pietersen rejected Gani’s demands that all legal proceedings be ended.
Asked to confirm whether SARS had indeed agreed to re-audit Lifman, the SARS media office responded by saying: "SARS does not comment on the affairs of a taxpayer."
News24 understands SARS’ chief officer for enforcement, Hlengani Mathebula, told senior colleagues this week that he had not sanctioned or authorised a review of Lifman’s tax bill, raising questions about the mandate and modus operandi of Mundie’s new investigations unit, that was sanctioned by Moyane.
Lifman told News24's Caryn Dolley: "All I want is that I’m treated fairly. It’s time that every single member that’s involved in the corruption at SARS, including the attorneys, the advocates and the accounting firms, are going to be exposed."