Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane during a press conference in illovo. Picture: ALON SKUY
Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane during a press conference in illovo. Picture: ALON SKUY

Suspended SA Revenue Service (Sars) commissioner Tom Moyane had the tax agency pay a law firm R120,000 to read a book in order to determine whether it defamed him. 

The exorbitant fees paid to Moyane’s lawyers, Mashiane, Moodley & Monama, by Sars during his tenure came under the spotlight at the Sars commission of inquiry on Monday, with the tax agency’s human resources head and key Monyane ally Luther Lebelo telling the commission he had repeatedly complained to the suspended tax boss about the hefty invoices from the law firm. 

Lebelo himself is under fire for instructing the same firm to compile evidence on the alleged “rogue unit” at Sars in preparation for his own appearance before the inquiry, which was invoiced at R1m. 

David Maphakela, partner at Mashiane, Moodley & Monama, is not pleased at being hauled before the inquiry and through his lawyers told the commission he would not give oral evidence on Monday. 

Maphakela had provided an affidavit to the inquiry and told the commission he believes this is sufficient. This culminated in a showdown with retired judge Robert Nugent, who eventually ruled that he was compelled to give oral evidence. Maphakela indicated he would challenge Nugent’s ruling in court. 

Evidence leader, advocate Carol Steinberg, revealed that Maphakela’s law firm invoiced Sars to read a book to establish whether Moyane was referenced and whether the information contained in it was defamatory. This had been billed at R120,000. 

Lebelo had also asked the law firm to compile evidence of the alleged “rogue unit” at Sars in preparation for his own appearance before the inquiry in September.

He effectively blamed Mashiane, Moodley & Monama for inflating the costs for the work he requested. Lebelo told the inquiry he had contested the R1m price tag for the work, which he described as simply a “request for files”.

The invoice was then revised and Sars was issued with a R759,000 bill. He says he is also contesting this amount. And he has provided the commission with e-mails to Moyane in which he says he complains about the bills from the law firm.

Lebelo, who is dubbed “Moyane’s hitman” by Sars employees, told the commission the response from Moyane to his e-mails was simply “just pay them”. 

Responding to questions from Business Day on whether payments to the law firm would be investigated, Sars said acting commissioner Mark Kingon committed to conduct an investigation into the matter when he appeared before the commission on Friday. 

Aside from his oral submissions, Lebelo provided an affidavit to the commission attempting to show that the alleged “rogue unit” was established and functioned unlawfully.

However, Nugent read out a legal opinion by senior counsel Wim Trengove, provided to Moyane in September 2015, which indicates that the establishment of the unit was lawful and shows that Sars was allowed to conduct surveillance, with certain limitations. 

Lebelo’s affidavit, which Business Day has seen, refers to “Project Sunday Evenings”, the alleged bugging of the National Prosecuting Authority by Sars officials, who are understood to have been moonlighting at the time.

The commission continues on Tuesday with evidence from embattled information technology consultant Gartner.