SARS exec 'will go to war' over R759k private law firm bill

Luther Lebelo, SARS Group Executive for Employment Relations
Luther Lebelo, SARS Group Executive for Employment Relations
Sibongile Khumalo

SARS Group Executive for Employment Relations, Luther Lebelo, has told the Nugent Commission of Inquiry he is prepared to "go to war" to challenge the R759 000 bill he received from lawyers who helped him gather evidence for his submission last month.

The initial fee charged by Mashiane, Moodley & Monama Inc was R1m, before being negotiated down.

Lebelo told the inquiry the invoice had not yet been settled, saying the amount was "exorbitant".

"We are going to go to war about that invoice. How can files that were readily available cost so much?" he said.

In seeking private legal assistance, Lebelo allegedly overlooked internal SARS legal services offered to staff members who were going to give evidence before the inquiry.

But in his testimony to the Commission, Lebelo denied that he had ignored process, saying he had solicited private assistance with acting commissioner, Mark Kingon's backing. Kingon, however, in his testimony has refuted this. 

Lebelo had hired the legal team to gather and prepare documents containing evidence that linked former SARS employees Ivan Pillay and Peter Richer to the so-called "rogue-unit".

Judge Robert Nugent, who is heading the commission, put it to Lebelo that it seemed the lawyers were instructed to extract information to build a case against Richer and Pillay.

In his evidence last month, Lebelo stated that part of his submission was to dispel suggestions that he was a "hitman" of suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane and was responsible for the purging of staff.

Lebelo said he was informed just a few days before he was to appear before the commission that the bill from the law firm was R1m. 

"I was shocked… I got hold of them [and] they reduced it to R759 000," he said.

He could not comprehend that retrieving files would cost so much, he added.

'His henchmen are still around'

In a dramatic turn of events, David Maphakela, a partner at Mashiane, Moodley & Monama Inc, declined to give oral evidence at the inquiry, arguing through his lawyer, William Mukhari, that he had already made a written submission.

Nugent ruled against Mukhari’s submission, a decision that he resolved to challenge in court.

"I fail to understand why an admitted attorney must refuse to give evidence before the commission," said Nugent.

Maphakela left without testifying.  

Earlier, Acting Chief Officer Fabian Murray revealed that an atmosphere of fear was still prevalent at SARS despite Moyane's suspension.

"Many people know that his henchmen are still around; the team members who executed his instructions are still there.

"So, fear is still around," said Murray.

On Tuesday, the inquiry would hear evidence from consulting firm Gartner, the company that designed an IT strategy for SARS in 2015. SARS employees who have testified before the inquiry revealed that the strategy had not been implemented.

The Gartner contract cost SARS nearly R200m.

* This story has been updated to reflect that Mr Lebelo did not tell the Commission he had sidelined due process in terms of soliciting private legal assistance. Instead, based on transcripts, he told the Commission that he had done so with the backing of acting commissioner, Mark Kingon. Kingon, however, in his testimony has refuted this. Fin24 apologises to Mr Lebelo for any inconvenience this may have caused.

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