Sars suspends two senior executives

Two Sars officials have been suspended pending disciplinary processes. Sars has been at the centre of reports lately that it has operations of a rogue intelligence unit. (Gallo)

Two Sars officials have been suspended pending disciplinary processes. Sars has been at the centre of reports lately that it has operations of a rogue intelligence unit. (Gallo)

Deputy South African Revenue Service’s (Sars) commissioner Ivan Pillay and group executive of strategic planning and risk Peter Richers have been suspended, the revenue service announced on Friday.

“I have ... decided to suspend the following two senior executives pending a disciplinary process in terms of the Sars disciplinary code and procedure, and applicable labour laws including the Labour Relations Act,” Sars commissioner Tom Moyane said in a statement.

Following media allegations against some of senior officials Pillay appointed a panel to investigate the existence and truthfulness of the allegations, he said.

Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, SC, together with a panel of senior advocates were tasked with investigating the allegations. On November 16, it was reported that Moyane halted his executive committee’s advisory duties.

Reasons for suspensions
Moyane said in the midst of the investigation further allegations were made in reports about “illegal activities of a covert unit” in October.

He said according to the terms of reference the panel had to probe whether there was any breach of confidentiality provisions contained in chapter 6 of the Tax Administration Act (TAA) relating to the breach of the Sars oath of secrecy and any engagement in corrupt activities.

Moyane received a report on November 5 and made it available to the finance minister and members of the Sars executive committee. He said the panel expressed its disappointment that the existence of the unit was not volunteered to it in the early stages of its investigation. 

Moyane said he consulted relevant parties regarding the findings and received advice from independent attorneys. He took the decision to suspend the two officials and said disciplinary proceedings should be taken against those employees who had been implicated in the report.

“While Sars remains an efficient and effective organisation, the unlawful establishment of a unit that operated ostensibly in a covert manner, has created a climate of intrigue, fear and subterfuge within the organisation,” Moyane said, stating his reasons for the suspension.

“The establishment of the unit without having the requisite statutory authority was indeed unlawful.”

Other reasons were that there was prima facie evidence that the unit may have abused its power and resources by engaging in activities that reside in the other agencies of government and which it had no lawful authority to perform.

There was prima facie evidence that the recruitment, funding and practices of the unit were in violation of Sars’s own human resources policy and there was prima facie evidence that the existence of the unit had the real possibility of undermining the work of those agencies tasked with the investigation of organised crime and the collection of intelligence. 

The last reason was that there was prima facie evidence that suggested the activities of the special projects unit may have included rogue behaviour that had the potential to damage the reputation of Sars as an organ of state.

The panel recommended that Sars develop formal operational relations with state agencies authorised to gather intelligence and investigate organised crime and clear guidelines for co-operation in respect to its own mandate. Sars should conduct a forensic investigation into all the settlements concluded with taxpayers that have been under investigation since 2005. 

Moyane said he took steps to refer the findings on possible breach of intelligence and associated legislation to the inspector general of intelligence.

“[I] disband the covert unit and conduct a forensic investigation to ensure that the alleged unit and its activities cease to exist in its entirety,” he said.

Rogue intelligence unit
Previously, the Sunday Times reported allegations that the unit had been involved in setting up a brothel in Durban as a cover for officials working from home, had spied on a wide range of people, including taxi hitmen, druglords, cigarette and abalone smugglers, Sars officials and politicians, and that some Sars officials were infiltrated into the ANC as bodyguards.

In September, then head of tax and customs investigations – who allegedly headed the unit at one time – Johann van Loggenberg, was placed on special leave pending a probe into allegations of misconduct.

In November, Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay urged that the investigation into the matter be allowed to complete its work, before further discussion, while the City Press newspaper reported that Monyane had formally suspended Van Loggenberg.

The Sunday Times published what is said what an extract of his notice of suspension that said he had been suspended in order to “provide for full investigations into allegations against you of irregularities, misconduct and bringing the organisation’s name and reputation into disrespect”.

The newspaper reported that Van Loggenberg denied all allegations against him. – Sapa


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