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Gold Leaf Tobacco, which stands accused by the SA Revenue Service (Sars) of shortchanging the fiscus by R3bn, has failed in its attempt to get Sasfin to hand it its bank statements, hinting that it suspects the lender fiddled with its bank records.

Gold Leaf, which owns brands such as RG cigarettes, approached the high court in Johannesburg, asking that Sasfin provide it with documents relating to the two accounts it held with the bank, one for US dollars and the other for the rand.

The company also asked the court to compel Sasfin to furnish it with the full record of its investigations into the “possible manipulation and or destruction/corruption of the bank statements held by the respondent concerning the above accounts”, which forms part of its main Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) application.

In the main application Sasfin has raised several substantive defences, which are available to it under Paia to resist producing the bank statements and the report.

Gold Leaf says it requires these documents to co-operate with Sars’s probe into its tax affairs.

Sasfin, whose employees allegedly helped Gold Leaf launder money in a complex web, has told the court that it is no longer in possession of the bank statements, and that the information that was contained in the bank statements is only available on an old computer system, which it is no longer using.

The bank said it has to extract the information from the old computer system and reconstruct the bank statements, which is not a straightforward task.

The Johannesburg-based bank also told the court that the bank statements that it has thus far generated with data from the old computer system are “unreliable” and that it does not rely on the accuracy of the statements.

Acting judge Ian Green ruled on Monday that Gold Leaf was straddling two chairs and that the required documents were irrelevant for the purpose of the rule 35 (12) application.

Back door

“During the argument, Mr [Rudolf] Mastenbroek who appeared for Gold Leaf, said that if Gold Leaf obtains the bank statements under this 35 (12) application, then all that remains in the main application is the issue of production of the report,” Green ruled.

“This demonstrates the difficulty with this application. A party should not be able to secure the substantive relief that it claims in the main application through the ‘back door’ of a rule 35 (12) application. If that were permitted it would deprive the opposing party of its right to a hearing, and a proper adjudication of its defences in the main application.”

The tobacco producer, owned by Simon Rudland and Ebrahim Adamjee, was last year slapped with a preservation order by Sars.

Rudland and Adamjee’s assets were also frozen.

According to Daily Maverick at the time, Sars investigators told the court they had evidence that Gold Leaf was involved in money laundering and owed the fiscus about R3bn in undeclared income tax, VAT and other taxes.

JSE-listed Sasfin last month said its investigation had found a syndicate was expatriating money in a way that circumvented exchange control rules and anti-money-laundering rules.

“It was quite a sophisticated attack, which took on many different forms over the years. We have taken significant action emerging out of this investigation.”

Al Jazeera reported earlier in 2023 that staff at Standard Bank, Absa and Sasfin had been on the payroll of Mohamed Khan, an alleged accomplice of Rudland, who is alleged to be the kingpin behind multiple Zimbabwean gold smuggling gangs.

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