SARS can't be defamed, former spokesperson argues in court

Pretoria – SARS commissioner Tom Moyane must bear the brunt of allegations levelled against him and the organisation, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria heard on Tuesday. 

"He is a tall tree and tall trees are expected to be buffeted by the wind. It must be remembered that he is suing for defamation in his official and personal capacity," advocate Max du Plessis, for former SARS spokesperson Adrian Lackay, argued in court.

SARS and Moyane are suing Lackay for defamation. SARS wants R10m in damages from him, and Moyane R2m.

Du Plessis said SARS, as an organ of State, could not be defamed. He argued for the matter to be struck off the roll. 

William Mokhari, for SARS and Moyane, argued that if the reputations of "critical institutions" like SARS were dented, the economy would crumble.

"The statements that were made are defamatory. Calling the commissioner a liar is also defamatory. Who cares where he gets the money [R12m] from," Mokhari said.

Last year, Lackay submitted a letter titled "SARS: This is the inside story" to two parliamentary committees in which he alleged that Moyane wilfully misled the country and Parliament.

Lackay denied the existence of a "rogue investigation unit", with a secret account that spied on taxpayers.

In its summons, SARS alleged that Lackay had defamed it and Moyane, released information protected by the Tax Administration Act and the Customs and Excise Act unlawfully to Parliament, and that he had breached his oath of confidentiality.

Lackay resigned from SARS in February 2015, after 11 years of service.

In his letter to Parliament's standing committee on finance and the joint standing committee on intelligence, Lackay claimed that Moyane had instructed him to disseminate lies to the media.

Since Moyane's appointment in September 2014, senior officials were allegedly bullied, threatened, muzzled and suspended to "drive a specific narrative to the public", Lackay said. 

Judgment was reserved on whether the case should continue or not. 

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