Sars suspensions could hamper investigations

High-profile tax investigations could be hampered by the recent resignations and suspensions at Sars. (Gallo)

High-profile tax investigations could be hampered by the recent resignations and suspensions at Sars. (Gallo)

Recent resignations and suspensions at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) could hamper a number of its high-profile tax investigations, Beeld reported on Wednesday.

The Afrikaans daily reported it had a list of investigations a special intelligence unit was conducting, including into Czech businessman and attempted murder suspect Radovan Krejcir, before newly-appointed commissioner Tom Moyane suspended the unit.

The investigations included “Project Zanadu”, a probe into the operations of the Mpisi group that reportedly had business ties with President Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse.

“Project Knight Rider” was investigating the assets and business partners of Krejcir, and “Project Prince” the activities of one Sam Hamade from Glen Erasmia, Kempton Park, who claims to be an “honorary colonel” and Libyan prince.

“Project Goldfinger” was probing Krejcir’s and Hamade’s alleged involvement with gold smelters. Other, ad hoc, projects investigated illicit tobacco and Nigerian “419” scams.

The intelligence unit was reportedly set up in 2007.

It established a brothel in Durban as a cover for officials working from home; spied on people, including taxi hitmen, druglords, cigarette and abalone smugglers, Sars officials and politicians. Some Sars officials reportedly infiltrated the ANC as bodyguards.

In September, Johann van Loggerenberg, Sars’s former head of tax and customs investigations, who reportedly once headed the unit, was placed on special leave by Moyane pending a misconduct probe.

In November, Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay urged that investigations be completed before commenting further.

On December 5, Moyane announced the suspensions of deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and strategic planning and risk group executive, Peter Richer. 

On Monday, Business Day reported that head of modernisation and strategy, Jerome Frey, had quit. 

Zuma denies links
The Presidency on Tuesday criticised allegations made by Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille linking President Jacob Zuma to the recent Sars suspensions.

“The President has nothing to do with any of the allegations levelled against the staff members of Sars and linking him to this matter is pure mischief,” spokesperson Mac Maharaj said in a statement. 

He said some newspapers had also tried to drag the President into the matter. 

The suspensions followed the appointment by Pillay of a panel to investigate allegations reported in the media about a special projects unit and its alleged illegal activities at Sars.
The organisation’s chief operations officer Barry Hore had also resigned. 

Tax compliance
On Sunday, City Press reported that when Pillay read about the costs of upgrades to President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla homestead, he commissioned legal advice on the tax implications.

The advice he received was that such benefits attract tax, even if a property was built on communal trust land, as was the case with Nkandla. According to the report, Pillay read about the sprawl of businesses and trusts linked to the first family and told Zuma they needed to be made tax compliant.

Maharaj told the newspaper Zuma could not disclose all his meetings with individuals, ministers or officials, “otherwise government cannot function”.

On Friday, the Mail & Guardian reported that a factor that led to Pillay’s suspension was his refusal to let a consignment of ANC T-shirts, imported from China, be released by customs without duty being paid. 

Sars withdraws Richer’s suspension
Meanwhile, Sars on Wednesday withdrew the suspension of Peter Richer.

A draft order was made by the Labour Court in Johannesburg and Sars was ordered to pay Richer’s costs. Richer approached the court to challenge his suspension.

Judgment in a bid by Pillay to have his suspension overturned was reserved by the Labour Court in Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The court will hand down judgment on Thursday. – Sapa, Staff reporter

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