NPA head to review prosecution of SARS 'Sunday Evenings' trio

From left to right: Ivan Pillay (64), Andries Janse van Rensburg (53) and Johann van Loggerenberg (49).
From left to right: Ivan Pillay (64), Andries Janse van Rensburg (53) and Johann van Loggerenberg (49).
Deaan Vivier, Netwerk24

Three former SARS officials accused of being part of a project to bug the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in 2007 have agreed to a request by prosecutors to postpone their case to later this year.

According to Bernard Hotz, the attorney for all three accused, the postponement was to allow the newly appointed National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), advocate Shamila Batohi, to review the decision taken to prosecute Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg and Andries Janse van Rensburg last year.

The case will head to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on October 14.

Hotz is a director at Werksmans Attorneys, where he serves as the head of business crime and investigations. Advocate Laurence Hodes SC appeared for the former SARS officials, while advocate Karla Germishuys appeared for the State.

"We welcome the fact that the new NDPP has indicated a desire to review the decision taken to prosecute," Hotz told News24.

NPA spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane told ENCA outside court on Wednesday that the matter was not yet before Batohi, and did not confirm that the postponement was at the State's request.

"The defence team is expected to make submissions to the National Director of Public Prosecutions. It is basically a request for her to review the decision by the office of the director of public prosecutions in North Gauteng," Mjonondwane said.

Hotz explained that preliminary representations made in March 2018 were handed to the State on Wednesday.

The former SARS employees face charges relating to "Project Sunday Evenings", an endeavor that involved the installation of covert cameras and microphones at the now dismantled Scorpions and NPA's head offices in Silverton, Pretoria, in 2007. 

The bugging incident first emerged as part of a series of reports by the Sunday Times on the so-called "rogue unit" that operated at SARS between 2007 and 2014. The newspaper has since retracted and apologised for the reports.

The installation of the hidden cameras, which were remotely accessible, were conducted by now suspended SARS employee Helgard Lombard who is a State witness in the case against his former bosses. 

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg are accused by the NPA of "unauthorised gratification by a party to an employment relationship" for allegedly allowing Lombard to "keep" R100 000 from the installation project. 

Lombard, who has been on suspension since 2015, was paid R900 000 to install the cameras, and a further R250 000 for providing encrypted cellphones to members of the Scorpions, News24 understands.

The Scorpions' secret fund, known as the C-Fund, was used to pay Lombard for the work.

Pillay and Janse van Rensburg are also charged with contravening the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Transactions Act, charges relating directly to the planting of the bugs.  

The case started in March 2018, when the trio were served with a summons to appear in court.

The case, which was moved from the Pretoria Magistrate's Court to the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, has largely been a battle about getting access to the police docket – Brooklyn CAS427/15 – the same docket used by the Hawks to send former finance minister Pravin Gordhan the now infamous 27 questions.

The questions related to Gordhan's time as SARS commissioner, during which time the so-called rogue unit was established as well as the early pension payout and rehiring of Pillay.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, in a recent report, found Gordhan had violated the Constitution for Pillay's pension payout, and has publicly confirmed that she had issued Gordhan with notices of adverse findings against him in another probe into the establishment of the unit in 2007.

Hotz told News24 that the State was provided with a set of preliminary representations on Wednesday that were first submitted to former NDPP advocate Shaun Abrahams in March 2018.

These representations were never truly considered, the SARS trio argued in an urgent application that was brought shortly after they were charged.

The urgent application was removed from the court roll after the NPA agreed to look at the representations again.

Hotz added that a copy of an application to review a decision by Abrahams not to take disciplinary action against the prosecutions team assigned to the case, namely Sibongile Mzinyathi, Sello Maema and Torie Pretorius for misconduct, was also handed to the State on Wednesday, for Batohi's consideration.

The court also heard that despite the NPA's submissions that the full docket had been provided to the accused as agreed, there were parts of the docket that were still missing from the version handed to the SARS trio. The missing sections have been pointed out to the NPA, Hotz said, to no avail.

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