We got certain things wrong - Sunday Times on Sars 'rogue unit' stories

Newspapers. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)
Newspapers. (Duncan Alfreds, Fin24)

Johannesburg - The Sunday Times newspaper has conceded that its coverage of the so-called Sars "rogue unit" got certain things wrong.

In an article titled: "Finally we agree to lay to rest the controversies surrounding… Sars and the Sunday Times", the weekly newspaper's editor Bongani Siqoko said it was evident that the newspaper had not gotten everything right, nor had it gotten everything wrong.

He said certain allegations had been presented as fact and that in certain cases, information that was published was incomplete.

He said there were gaps in the newspaper's processes of news-gathering and production.

Press Ombudsman ruling

In December last year News24 reported on a ruling by the Press Ombudsman in which the Sunday Times was ordered to retract all stories about its Sars "rogue unit saga" and to publicly apologise in writing to former SA Revenue Service commissioner Pravin Gordhan and the others implicated.

Gordhan, former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and former Sars group executive for tax and customs enforcement investigations Johann van Loggerenberg had lodged a complaint against the Sunday Times following a series of reports in 2014 regarding Sars and an alleged illegal unit, which was accused of running a brothel and spying on President Jacob Zuma, among other things.

In his ruling, ombudsman Johan Retief, slammed the newspaper for its "inaccurate, misleading and unfair" reportage on the matter.

On Sunday Van Loggerenberg had a right to reply published in the weekend newspaper. In a piece titled "'Rogue' unit never broke the law and was very effective", he said that he had never been given the right to defend himself in public before and was pleased with the opportunity to do so.

He asserted that all units he established at Sars were lawful and legitimate.

He told former employees involved in the units to remain proud since nothing wrong was done by any of them.

Right of reply

Meanwhile, in his right to reply, Pillay said that the full extent of the damage to Sars' reputation through the newspaper's reporting would still emerge. As such, he said that the "rogue unit" reports had not best served the interests of the public.

On Sunday, the newspaper said that an amicable settlement had now been reached with all parties and no further action would ensue.

In an opinion column published last week on News24, commentator Max Du Preez alleged that the false stories about the Sars unit had been deliberately leaked as part of a project "to discredit and undermine several state agencies that tried to investigate Zuma and some of his wealthy friends and to replace their leadership structures with Zuma loyalists".

Meanwhile last week, Fin24 reported that Gordhan, who is the finance minister, had answered the Hawks' questions regarding the alleged unit on Wednesday, stating that the unit acted lawfully as far as he was aware.

"The unit was an essential part of Sars' enforcement strategy as it is with most tax and customs administrations globally.

"As far as I was aware, the unit lawfully performed its functions," said Gordhan in his response.

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