/ 26 February 2010

Mike Peega: The man behind the dossier

The core of Julius Malema’s dossier of people allegedly targeted by the South African Revenue Service (Sars) is taken from a report drawn up by former Sars undercover agent Mike Peega.

Peega is rather easy to discredit. A former special forces soldier, he went on leave in December 2008 and did not return to work as scheduled on January 2 2009, Sars says.

Instead, according to police documents seen by the Mail & Guardian, he was stopped at a roadblock in Modimolle, north of Pretoria. Another person in the vehicle fled the scene, but Peega was arrested when a .303 hunting rifle was found in the vehicle; he later allegedly confessed to having been hired by a rhino poaching syndicate because of his shooting skills. Peega is understood to have repudiated the confession later.

Released on bail, he returned to Sars and faced a disciplinary hearing. His dismissal was confirmed on appeal in July last year. The M&G understands that Peega did not contest the basic facts of his arrest, but argued that Sars should wait for his criminal case to be completed. Neither did he raise the allegation that his Sars special projects unit (SPU) had been abused to target Zuma supporters.

That’s the claim Peega made in the report now being touted by Malema.

The M&G has seen a version of Peega’s report in which he claims: ‘Post-Polokwane we were given projects and subjects named as tax offenders but on close inspection we realised that the concerned targets were JZ sympathisers …”

Peega lists the individuals he claims were targeted by the SPU, but nowhere in the supporting documentation attached to his report is there any evidence supporting these claims. Minutes of team meetings refer only to six projects, none apparently linked to the ‘Zuma sympathisers” he names.

The projects appear to have been related to cigarette, abalone and drug smuggling — as well as to the investigation of multimillionaire Dave King, who is fighting off huge tax evasion charges.

According to Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay, projects had to be detailed and approved in writing and were ‘solely based on existing investigations in other units”.

‘I can unequivocally state that all so-called taskings mentioned in the Peega document are untrue.”

In the one incident that Peega sets out in any detail, he claims that during one operation he had a heated argument with his ‘team leader” about allegedly being tasked to monitor Zuma spokesperson Zizi Kodwa and former ANC Youth League leader Fikile Mbalula while they were staying at Durban’s Hilton Hotel.

The Sars version is that the SPU team was deployed on projects involving drugs, cigarettes and counterfeit goods. ‘The meetings with Kodwa and Mbalula were coincidental,” said Lackay.

‘According to a report by one of the members present at the time, the meetings occurred by chance when they met for breakfast downstairs. Peega seemed to know Mbalula … and introduced them to the other team members in order to impress them with his contacts with senior ANC ­persons.”

Yet the documents supplied by Peega do provide some evidence that, at least in the initial period after its formation in early 2007, the unit was operating in an uncharted, unstructured zone, which might have encouraged members to push the boundaries of legality.

Indeed the unit’s first commander was disciplined and resigned after obtaining unauthorised false IDs.

After the head of Sars’s enforcement investigation, Johann van Loggerenberg, took over, Peega’s own documents suggest strict ‘rules of the game” were introduced that emphasised the need to operate legally and ethically. But the M&G understands that at least some other Sars employees who were aware of the unit’s activities were concerned about the way it operated.

Said Lackay: ‘There is no need to create conspiracies about the work of a former Sars division as none, in our view, exists. It is with good reason that the SPU was established and operated in the way it did. The unit investigated serious crimes — including drug trafficking, cross-border smuggling of abalone and other forms of illicit goods and syndicated crimes.

‘Such investigations pose serious and real threats to the safety of investigators and their families.”

Lackay emphasised that the unit had no mandate or directive to target ‘senior Zuma supporters”.

‘This insinuation — and linking it politically to the minister of finance — is disingenuous and utter nonsense. The SPU conducted its work within the prescriptions of the laws that govern state security and information gathering as well as within the norms and standards that Sars sets for the conduct of its own people. Any allegation to the contrary by questionable sources must be rejected.”