Court holds off issuing Public Protector subpoena forcing SARS to release Zuma's tax information

Edward Kieswetter
Edward Kieswetter

The High Court has held off issuing a subpoena asked for by the Public Protector against SARS to obtain tax information believed to be related to former President Jacob Zuma.

This was revealed on Tuesday by Commissioner of the South Africa Revenue Service, Edward Kieswetter, without divulging the identity of the individual concerned.

Kieswetter said he will no longer be expected to present the information to Busisiwe Mkhwebane as required, pending legal clarity on the legal principle of releasing such information. Kieswetter said the matter related to a  the right to privacy.

Speaking to journalists in Pretoria, Kieswetter said the subpoena had taken him by surprise. He said a similar demand involving the same individual had been made in October under then acting SARS commissioner Mark Kingon. However, the matter was not followed through. 

"Taking this matter for judicial determination is certainly not my first choice," he said. "It would have been preferable for SARS and the Public Protector to have resolved this issue without resorting to a court."

Mkhwebane had filed a notice to oppose the tax agency's application to stop her from accessing tax records of Zuma, her spokesperson Oupa Segalwe confirmed to Fin24 on Monday afternoon.

Kieswetter said his office had always been open to dialogue and that should a court order that SARS release the required information, the agency will "promptly comply with the order."

"There is a fundamental issue of taxpayer confidentiality which I am compelled to uphold as commissioner for the benefit of all tax payers. The principle is not limited to the tax payers cited in the court documents," he said.

The demand for the release Zuma's tax records stem, in part, from allegations contained in Jacques Pauw's bookThe President's Keepers - where it was claimed that Zuma had received monthly payments from a private security company. Former DA leader Mmusi Maimane had in 2017 laid a complaint with the Public Protector that Zuma had failed to declare such payment, as required by the law.

Kieswetter stated that although the agency would abide by a court ruling, such an order may lead to amendments to the legislation governing the Tax Adminstration Act.

The tax boss, who took over as commissioner in May, said some confidential information leaks that have taken place suggests that there are individuals - past and present employees - who are "still captured" and appear to undermine the work of rebuilding SARS.

"Some individuals, some still present at SARS and individuals who were at SARS in the immediate past are still captured. They are still serving the intent which is contrary to administering tax laws in the interest of our young democracy," he said.

"I want to caution such individuals that you are breaking the law," he warned.

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