Claims of brothel, spying at Sars rogue unit

2014-11-09 10:28
A Sars office (File, Sars)

A Sars office (File, Sars)

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Johannesburg - A series of damning memos and documents has lifted the lid on the antics of a South African Revenue Services’ rogue unit that reportedly ran a brothel, spied on top cops and eavesdropped on politicians.

According to the Sunday Times, the group, called the National Research Group, became a law unto itself, with members using fake IDs and aliases.

Members reportedly posed as bodyguards for top ANC politicians in a bid to infiltrate the organisation, probed non-tax related matters such as taxi violence and were used to fight business battles on behalf of friends and relatives of senior Sars officials.

The unit was also allegedly ordered to follow three top Sars officials, Leonard Radebe, Nandi Madiba and Mandisa Mokoena, in order to find information on them and destroy their careers.

The newspaper reports that two of them, Radebe and Mokoena, were considered frontrunners to succeed former Sars commissioner Pravin Gordhan. All three were eventually fired from Sars while Radebe later died in a mysterious car accident.

One report confirms that the unit’s former head, known only as “Skollie” was given a R3.5m golden handshake when he left – after falling out with Sars’ top management. He was replaced by Johann van Loggerenberg.

Van Loggerenberg was however put on special leave last month after it was revealed that he passed sensitive taxpayers’ information to his ex-girlfriend, a Pretoria advocate, while they were dating.

When asked for comment, Sars’ spokesperson Adrian Lackay refused to answer specific questions. He said: “You cannot expect Sars to make public statements on a subject matter that is under investigation.”

Hush money

News24 reported last month that the R3.5m paid to “Skollie” was in fact hush money after the unit allegedly bugged President Jacob Zuma’s private residence in Forest Town, Johannesburg before he was elected president.

The unit was established in 2007 when Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Pravin Gordhan was Sars' commissioner and it specialised in infiltrating crime syndicates.

The unit is now the subject of three separate probes - by the Hawks, the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Sars and it is believed the unit violated the National Strategic Intelligence Act, which states that only the military, police and intelligence structures can gather covert intelligence.

However, the unit is accused of numerous transgressions including that it illegally intercepted e-mails and phone calls of taxpayers; that agents were paid from a secret cost centre and that agents conducted physical surveillance and house infiltrations to spy on taxpayers.

Love affair turned sour

The antics of this covert unit came to light after the Pretoria advocate, Belinda Walter, laid a complaint against the revenue service's group executive Van Loggenberg after their relationship ended.

During the course of this year, Walter had sent a series of e-mails to Sars officials complaining about Van Loggenberg.

"To put it mildly her allegations were alarmist and possibly defamatory," Lackay said at the time.

"Sars afforded the complainant the opportunity to substantiate the allegations."

According to City Press, in her complaint Walter called Van Loggenberg "mentally ill, unstable, corrupt".

The relationship between the two had reportedly gone sour when Van Loggenberg discovered that Walter was acting as a lawyer for the alleged tobacco smugglers he and Sars were investigating for tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.

Walter confessed to Van Loggenberg that she was also working as a spy for a unit of the State Security Agency (SSA).

The couple broke up in May this year and Van Loggenberg went through hundreds of text messages he helped her retrieve as a favour and started to piece together the existence of a special operations unit within the SSA.

The unit, which reportedly operated from a house in Pretoria east, had worked with the alleged tobacco smugglers. Convicted drug trafficker Glen Agliotti, who testified against former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi, allegedly recruited the smugglers.

The group also allegedly had a hand in trying to reinstate former crime intelligence boss Richard Mdluli and the ousting of NPA prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, and replacing Sars top management.

Lackay said Sars established a review panel once Walter had laid the complaint against Van Loggenberg, which was chaired by independent, external legal counsel, Sars anti-corruption division head and the head of the internal audit division, to assess the allegations.

Walter appeared before the panel, however, she did not supply it with relevant facts and refused to put her allegations into a sworn affidavit.

"If the complainant and connected individuals, who are peddling the same allegations to the media, would instead present Sars with credible information, Sars would treat the allegations seriously," he said.

Walter withdrew her complaint against Van Loggenberg "without prejudice".

Lackay said Sars was aware of attempts to tarnish the integrity of some of its officials involved in the investigation into the tobacco industry, and wrote to representative bodies alerting them to the untoward practices by some in the industry.

"Sars now possesses significant and credible evidence showing incidents of spying, 'double-agents', dirty tricks, leaking false allegations and discrediting Sars officials by the complainant referred to above, and connected individuals dating as far back as 2010," he said.

Sars and Van Loggenberg, in his personal capacity were collaborating with investigations by the Hawks and state security into the matter.

Read more on:    sars  |  glenn agliotti  |  pravin gordhan

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