Sars spied on Zuma

2014-10-12 09:03
A Sars office in Krugersdorp. (Sars)

A Sars office in Krugersdorp. (Sars)

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Cape Town - The South African Revenue Services (Sars) reportedly paid an official R3m in hush money after its illegal spy unit bugged President Jacob Zuma’s house.

According to the Sunday Times, the former head of Sars' covert unit, a man referred to only as "Skollie", blackmailed the agency into paying him the money in exchange for his silence on illegal operations the unit conducted including one involving a break in at Zuma's private residence in Forest Town, Johannesburg, where they planted listening devices.

This happened before Zuma was elected president.

In addition, the newspaper reports that documents seen by them also claim that the unit intercepted a meeting between Zuma and Sars executive Leonard Radebe at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Durban ahead of the ANC's Polokwane conference in 2007.

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, reports the newspaper.

The unit is now meanwhile the subject of three separate probes - by the Hawks, the Office of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Sars.

According to the report, 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.

Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay confirmed the unit's existence but denied that it - known as the National Research Group - had ever been involved in covert operations.

Love affair turned sour

This latest development comes after News24 recently reported that a Pretoria lawyer had laid a complaint against the revenue service's group executive Johann van Loggenberg after their relationship ended.

During the course of this year, advocate Belinda 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, according to the newspaper.

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.

"We are confident that soon many of the undesirable practices in the industry will come to light and the individuals concerned will be held to account," said Lackay.

Read more on:    sars  |  jacob  |  corruption

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