EXCLUSIVE: Former SARS executive cleared of criminal charges

2017-09-01 12:20
Gene Ravele. (Angelique Serrao, News24)

Gene Ravele. (Angelique Serrao, News24)

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Johannesburg - The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has declined to prosecute a criminal case against a former chief officer at the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

This has further cemented a belief that there appears to be selective prosecution happening at the organisation, with those close to SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane appearing to get some level of protection while others have been targeted for investigation.

This contradiction has upset a number of SARS insiders who spoke to News24, saying the investigation processes have not been fair and they believe they were aimed at getting people not wanted by the current leadership to resign from the organisation.

They say there has been a pattern of intimidation, false charges, forcing people out, and wrongful dismissals at the organisation.

After nearly two years of being investigated by the Hawks, the former SARS chief officer in charge of Tax and Customs Enforcement, Gene Ravele, has had all charges against him dropped.

READ: SARS 'hostage victim' takes taxman to court

Corruption case

Ravele was one of SARS' most senior employees.

He worked at the revenue service for 18 years under various roles until his resignation in May 2015, following the ructions after Moyane's appointment as commissioner.

Before his resignation, SARS attempted to suspend him by bringing numerous internal charges against him.

The organisation, following an investigation by KPMG into the matter, was also the complainant in a criminal case of corruption against him where they alleged that he booked a weekend away at Sun City under a disguised name and unlawfully upgraded from the Cascades Hotel to The Palace.

SARS alleged that this trip was a R10 000 unauthorised gift made to him by a sequestered tax payer.

Ravele denied the allegations against him to the Hawks, saying he had been given a complimentary upgrade at the resort as part of a gambler royalty programme.

When put under the microscope by the NPA, the evidence in the case did not add up.

NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku told News24 that the reason the prosecutor declined to prosecute the case was that there was "a lack of sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of successful prosecution".

"The allegations could not be supported by any concrete evidence," Mfaku said.

READ: SARS suspends 'last Jedi'

Charges

At the time the charges were laid in early 2015 - at the height of the rogue unit allegations - SARS, it appears, was determined to lay charges against Ravele.

In an internal charge sheet seen by News24 some of the charges SARS attempted to accuse him of were:

  • Sanctioning or approving the conducting of unlawful covert and or clandestine intelligence gathering activity in SARS
  • Negotiating the procurement of mobile phone tracking and monitoring equipment from a company recommended by former Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils,
  • Negotiating the transfer of and accepted delivery of serious military surveillance equipment from the United States Customs Border Protection,
  • That he unlawfully made use of other divisions cost centres for the unlawful acquisition of spy equipment which was later given to the HRIU,
  • That he was involved in the unlawful acquisition of a small arsenal of arms and ammunition for SARS
  • He committed fraud and corruption with his stay at Sun City.

All of the accusations were denied.

READ: Senior SARS employee involved with Zuma family-linked company

Open letter

Ravele sent an open letter to his friends and former colleagues when he found out the NPA had decided not to prosecute. In the letter he described going through "extreme trauma, anguish, torment and agony" in the past two years.

In the letter, he said that he had always maintained the trumped up charges were aimed at pushing him out of SARS and he was still unemployed.

"I have been accused of so many things that were investigated by SARS, the State Security Agency (SSA), the Hawks and KPMG Forensics.

"My right to privacy was violated; my bank was subpoenaed to provide my bank statements. I was placed under surveillance, there were attempts to vilify me in the media, my image was tarnished, all my attempts to find other employment were blocked," Ravele said.

He said that in the 1980s when he was detained without trial, in solitary confinement and with all sorts of psychological and physical torture, it did not break him and he always refused to be a victim.

But on the day the office of the DPP called him to tell him the charges had been dropped, he locked himself in his study and cried.

"The difference between then and now is that we expected that kind of treatment from the apartheid regime. But this was from our own government that we fought for… What happened to me in SARS has wounded me deeply. I am grappling with the psychology of betrayal - it's a very complex hurtful issue."

Ravele would not comment to News24, but his lawyer Daniel Witz said that it has been a long battle for his client.

"In order to clear his name he has had to spend his money paying legal fees, the stress was enormous, he had to leave his job and this took a toll on his family. He is very relieved that he can now get on with his life," Witz said.

Ravele is not the only former SARS employee who has had charges brought against him by the revenue services, only for them to be dropped, embarrassingly so, by the NPA.

READ: SARS IT chief previously dismissed for misconduct

Illegal interceptions

In October 2016, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams announced charges against former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, former deputy SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay and former SARS commissioner Oupa Magashula.

The three were charged with fraud and contraventions of the Public Finance Management Act relating to Pillay's early retirement.

But before the end of the same month, Abrahams withdrew the charges.

Just this week, it has emerged that the Hawks are still actively pursuing a separate case against them, on Project Sunday Evenings, which is the alleged illegal interceptions of the NPA.

This, and the general rogue unit allegations, have largely been discredited since they first emerged in late 2014. But SARS and the Hawks are still attempting to finalise a case.

On Thursday, SARS legal specialist Vlok Symington took the revenue service to court in a bid to prevent an unfair dismissal.

In his court papers, he described a troubled organisation that was deliberately trying to target him because a memorandum he wrote in 2009 stopped the fraud case against Gordhan.

There have also been recent suspensions of senior SARS staff members such as Kumaran Moodley, one of the most experienced customs investigators - an investigation which has been questioned.  

Serious allegations

Yet, serious allegations against some SARS employees like those against SARS executive Jonas Makwakwa and his girlfriend Kelly-Ann Elskie, senior investigator Yegan Mundie, chief officer in charge of IT Kgabo Hlahla, and charges against Moyane himself, do not appear to be investigated with the same type of vigour by both SARS and the police, if at all.

Makwakwa, the chief officer for business and individual tax, has had at least three serious allegations brought against him.

The first is for suspicious and unusual payments, some in cash and amounting to R1.3m, into his private bank account.

He was also accused of using his influence to land Elskie a job in the legal unit and of allegedly interfering in billionaire couple Shauwn and S'bu Mpisane's tax affairs.

Corruption Watch has opened criminal charges against Makwakwa as well as Moyane for showing Makwakwa a report he received from the Financial Intelligence Centre of the suspicious payments in May 2016, as well as not reporting the case to the police.

It has been over a year since the FIC report was given to Moyane. In the meantime, Makwakwa and Elskie remain suspended and there has been no word on the finalisation of investigations against them.

Corruption Watch has written to the Hawks asking them how the case is going, but have had no response.

After the lack of any responses to their letters, Corruption Watch wrote to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate in March.

Legal options

In their letter they indicated that the Hawks told them they were handling an "inquiry" on the FIC report against Makwakwa and Elskie.

"We understand that an 'inquiry' is being made into the allegations of corruption against Makwakwa and Elskie despite the FIC having compiled all the evidence relating to the corrupt activities in its May 2016 report.

"In regard to our criminal complaint against Moyane, we are uncertain about what steps are being taken, if any, to investigate our complaint," Corruption Watch wrote in their complaint to IPID.

Corruption Watch spokesperson Moira Campbell said they were now considering their legal options in relation to the failure of both the police and the Hawks to engage with them on the progress of the investigation.

In the case of Mundie, forensic investigator Paul O'Sullivan opened a corruption case against him in November 2016 after he linked him to Taiwanese businessman, Jen-Chih "Robert" Huang through his wife, who was employed by Huang's Mpisi Trading 74 while SARS was investigating the company.

SARS defended Mundie, saying that when he joined the organisation in 2008, he informed management of his relationship with Mpisi Trading and he was not exposed to the affairs of the taxpayer.

There is no indication that SARS undertook any further investigation into this, despite the seriousness of the allegations.

In Hlahla's matter, it was revealed that he was dismissed from his previous job at the Limpopo department of health for misconduct, yet he is still employed at SARS.

"There appears to be selective suspensions and selective investigations," said one SARS insider.

No comment on 'gossip'

They said that once it is decided that an employee is not wanted there, an investigation appears to be launched and there is a search to find something they can pin on that person.

"Those charges against Gene Ravelle should never have been brought. How can senior Hawks officers take a docket to the NPA without evidence?

"They pursue some people to the end and other serious cases aren't investigated. For instance, why isn't the Guptas' R70m tax pay-out being investigated?" another insider asked.

SARS spokesperson Sandile Memela said they did not respond to gossip and rumours from anonymous sources.

They would not also comment on the dropping of charges against Ravele, saying they were prohibited from doing so by HR policies. They could also not comment on the investigations against suspended employees until they have been finalised, and they could not comment on the Oakbay pay-out because it was bound by taxpayer confidentiality.

* Do you have information for our investigative journalists? Send an email to tips@24.com

Read more on:    police  |  ipid  |  sars  |  hawks  |  tom moyane  |  johannesburg  |  crime  |  state capture  |  corruption

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