Oupa Magashula, Pravin Gordhan, Barry Hore and Ivan Pillay. Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA
Oupa Magashula, Pravin Gordhan, Barry Hore and Ivan Pillay. Picture: SIMON MATHEBULA

In a plot of Machiavellian proportions, Johann van Loggerenberg, who headed SARS’s elite crime-busting unit, and nearly the entire top management were forced to quit after reports about a "rogue unit" at the tax authority. In a groundbreaking new book he reveals what really happened at SARS and shows how the public was deceived.

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What none of us had realised initially, but would start to understand as things unfolded over time, was that the campaign against us was apparently also aimed at Pravin Gordhan, or PG, as some liked to call him. After the 2014 general election, Gordhan was replaced by Nene as Finance Minister and appointed as Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.

With hindsight, the first indications that PG was also being targeted became evident in media reports from around November 2014. Whereas the Sunday Times articles had initially published photos only of me, and later of Ivan Pillay, former Deputy Commissioner of SARS, and group executive Peter Richer, from this point onwards they also started including photos of Gordhan and, in some instances, Trevor Manuel. These articles about the "rogue unit" seldom referred to them directly, except to portray them as part of the hierarchy of the management structure at SARS or the Treasury.

The first direct allegation against Gordhan, however, came on 2 February 2015 — the month I resigned — during an interview with SARS spokesperson Luther Lebelo by 702 Radio talk-show host John Robbie. Pretoria-based attorney Belinda Walter [with whom Van Loggerenberg was in a short relationship] called the station and went live on air. She alleged that the unit "was a very small element within SARS and it was hidden within SARS; they didn’t operate within SARS offices and 90% of SARS employees weren’t aware of it … I cannot speak about Trevor Manuel; in documents I have seen Pravin Gordhan was definitely aware of it." [Footnote 1]

To this, Robbie responded by asking her, "And this unit was definitely illegal? And he would have known it was illegal?"

"Yes," she answered. [2]

Precisely what documents she had seen, who had shown her them, and why she sought to implicate Gordhan and mention Manuel in relation to the unit are open to speculation.

In May 2015, Gordhan deemed it necessary to issue a media release "to set the record straight" because, the statement said,

"some have seen it necessary to cast unwarranted aspersions on my integrity and record of public service. This is unacceptable and must not go unchallenged. At the outset let me state that I have never approved, as Commissioner of SARS, of any illegal activities. The establishment of an additional unit within the Enforcement Division was entirely legal. Any suggestion to the contrary is rejected emphatically. It is, in fact, during my stint at SARS that a whole range of institutional checks and balances were set up to ensure that no individual had unfettered powers and discretion in applying the law." [3]

By May 2015 most of the top management of SARS, who had served the institution for many years, were gone. The previous month, Ivan’s special adviser, Yolisa Pikie, resigned and shortly afterwards the deputy SARS spokesperson, Marika Muller, followed.

It was suggested that my manager, Gene Ravele, the Chief Officer: Tax and Customs Enforcement, had also handed in a resignation letter in April 2015 but he was purportedly persuaded by Moyane not to resign. [4] In the end, Ravele, a chief HR officer Elizabeth Khumalo, the Group Executive: Tax and Customs Enforcement, Godfrey Baloyi, and Brian Kgomo, Group Executive: Internal Audit, who served on the first Kanyane Panel, would leave SARS during the year.

They were part of the group of 55 senior officials who ultimately left the institution over a period of 19 months following Moyane’s appointment in October 2014.

Pillay and Richer resigned with immediate effect at the beginning of May "after a protracted and acrimonious disciplinary process", according to City Press. [5] Shortly before his resignation, nine more charges were added to Pillay’s disciplinary-hearing charge sheet. In light of the claims that the unit had acquired and used all sorts of sophisticated spyware, I found it ironic that Ivan was also being charged for not providing the unit with sufficient resources, such as laptops and mobile phones. [6]

His hearing was set to start later that month. Lebelo is quoted as saying that the "parting of ways were amicable" and that "all charges and related investigations" against Pillay and Richer had been withdrawn. [7]

But, just days afterwards, the Sunday Times then ran a story with the headline "Pillay faces criminal charges after SARS spies explosive confession". [8] The article relates to events that allegedly took place in 2007 and were referred to as Project Sunday Evenings. Significantly, the Sunday Times claimed to have seen two affidavits by SARS officials supposedly dated 14 May 2015, three days before the story was published.

I can prove that no such affidavits existed then. I can only wonder what exactly it is that they saw, who showed them these "affidavits" and how they determined their authenticity. Without unpacking this particular Sunday Times article, I can only conclude that there were still forces out there who were determined to completely discredit us.

Almost a year later City Press revealed that, just days after Pillay and Richer had left SARS, Moyane had registered a case with the police against Pillay, Gordhan and other former SARS officials. [9] Apparently, Moyane had told the police that the alleged crime was committed at SARS’s Nieuw Muckleneuk headquarters after 4 May 2007. [10]

So much for an "amicable" parting of ways....

Footnotes

1. John Robbie show, SARS rogue unit: ‘Pravin Gordhan was definitely aware of it’, 702, 2 February 2015, accessed 5 August 2016.

2. As above

3. Pravin Gordhan, SARS unit entirely legal – Pravin Gordhan, Politicsweb, 10 May 2015, accessed 18 July 2016.

4. Natasha Marrian, Exodus at SARS continues as two more senior staff members quit, Business Day, 9 April 2015, accessed 17 July 2016.

5. A Mashego, SARS saga: Under-fire Pillay and Richer resign, 7 May 2015, accessed 17 July 2016.

6. Shanti Aboobaker, Sars’ case against Pillay, Independent Online, 15 February 2015, accessed 16 August 2016.

7. As above

8. Piet Rampedi, Stephan Hofstatter and Mzilikazi wa Afrika, Pillay faces criminal charges after SARS spies explosive confession, Sunday Times, 17 May 2015, accessed 18 July 2016.

9. A Mashego, Spooks get Gordhan docket, City Press, 29 May 2016, accessed 17 July 2016.

10. As above

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