A mysterious trip to Russia by suspended SARS commissioner Tom Moyane in November 2017 - on the taxpayer's tab - still cannot be explained.
The trip became a hot topic during minister Malusi Gigaba’s testimony at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry on Friday.
Gigaba was grilled on the trip by evidence leader Advocate Carol Steinberg, as he had approved the trip without getting any clarity from Moyane, who was in Russia from November 18 to 23, 2017.
Gigaba was the minister of finance at the time.
Moyane, who couched the trip as an urgent meeting with his Russian tax counterpart, meanwhile was expected to provide a feedback report upon his return.
He did not.
Gigaba told the Nugent Commission that he was "preoccupied" with preparations for the budget speech and also the ANC national elective conference, and failed to follow up with Moyane.
The trip came to light through a letter from acting SARS commissioner Mark Kingon to the commission. According to Kingon's submission, SARS has no records of the trip or its purpose, and he labelled the circumstances and secrecy around the trip as "suspicious".
News24 understands that Kingon made internal inquiries into the trip following a query from News24, sent to SARS on 4 July 2018.
Kingon addressed a letter to suspended commissioner Moyane following the News24 query, who failed to respond. Due to the lack of information available about the trip, SARS could do very little to explain it without Moyane’s cooperation.
The motivation sent to Gigaba by Moyane reportedly states that the reasons for the trip are secret, and Moyane would provide a verbal explanation to Gigaba if required.
'Urgent need' to work with Russia
According to Steinberg, Kingon’s letter detailed that the motivation penned by Moyane stated:
"There is an urgent need for me to work with the head of the Russian federal tax service."
Steinberg notes that, according to Kingon, the international relations team at SARS was not aware of the trip.
"[The] Circumstances and secrecy of the trip are suspicious," states Kingon in his letter.
Gigaba told the Nugent Inquiry that he had no reason to be suspicious of the trip of the request from Moyane at the time, but agreed with Kingon in that if the trip were not above board, Moyane should be compelled to pay back the funds.
Gigaba agreed during testimony at #NugentInquiry that if the trip was not for reasons as stated, Tom Moyane should be asked to pay back the money. Business class to Russia, accommodation and subsistence claims could have cost the taxpayer more than R200 000. #SARSInquiry— ?y?? ????? (@CowansView) August 31, 2018
"I think the commissioner should be required to provide details," says Gigaba. "I myself would be keen to know what was the purpose of the trip."
Moyane, through his attorney Eric Mabuza, was asked if he wished to comment but had not responded at the time of writing.
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