Sars exec resuspended pending probe into 'rogue' unit

Peter Richer was linked to a unit within Sars that allegedly conducted illegal surveillance. (Gallo)

Peter Richer was linked to a unit within Sars that allegedly conducted illegal surveillance. (Gallo)

In a further development within the embattled senior management at the South African Revenue Service (Sars), group executive for strategic planning and risk Peter Richer has been resuspended pending another investigation into his alleged involvement in a “rogue” unit within Sars.

It is the second time Sars has moved against Richer, who was linked to a unit within Sars that allegedly conducted illegal surveillance. But Richer went to court over the first suspension, settling with Sars and forcing it to withdraw the suspension.

The veracity of the allegations against him and other Sars officials supposedly involved in the so-called “rogue” unit remain contested.

Spokesperson Marika Muller said Sars still considered the suspension to be warranted after officials had heard Richer’s reasoning against his suspension.

“On 17 December 2014, Sars reached an out of court agreement with [Mr] Richer and his legal representatives that his suspension would be lifted, in order to allow him more time to make representations as to why he should not be suspended. He has since made those representations.

“Sars has considered Mr Richer’s representations and remains of the view that the situation merits a suspension. As a result, Sars can confirm that Mr Richer was suspended yesterday [on January 6]. Sars will not engage further on this matter for the moment.”

Illegally gathered intelligence
Allegations of the unit’s existence first surfaced when the ex-lover of Sars official Johann van Loggerenberg laid a complaint against him to the extent that he had allegedly gathered intelligence illegally on high-profile personnel being investigated by Sars. 

Then acting Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay established an inquiry, headed by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane. 

Later, the inquiry extended its mandate to investigate a unit called the national research group (NRG) within Sars.
Van Loggerenberg headed the unit, which was established by Pillay and Richer to investigate tax and customs offences, with a particular focus on organised crime.

It is this unit that the Sikhakhane inquiry would later find was established unlawfully and “may have abused its powers …”

But the Mail & Guardian later reported that Sikhakhane’s findings were heavily disputed by Pillay in internal correspondence.

‘Deeply flawed’
Pillay warned incoming Sars commissioner Tom Moyane that the inquiry’s findings were “deeply flawed”. Pillay told Moyane that Richer was not called to appear before the panel and decried what he said was the inquiry’s failure to deal substantively with the evidence before it.

Moyane suspended Pillay and Richer on December 5 this year. Pillay challenged his suspension in the Labour Court and won. He was issued with a notice of intention to suspend him a day after the Labour Court judgment was handed down. It is not clear if Pillay has responded to the letter yet.

Richer obtained a draft order from the Labour Court following a settlement with Sars on December 17 and his suspension was withdrawn.

That same day, Sars issued Richer with notice that it intended to issue him with a precautionary suspension, his most recent suspension letter reveals.

External investigation
The latest precautionary suspension, pending an investigation into his conduct, is effective from January 6 and lasts 30 days. This time, Sars has appointed forensic auditing firm KPMG to conduct the investigation.

Richer was given until December 19 to give Sars reasons why he should not be suspended.

Richter denied being involved in the creation of the unit. But in Richer’s notice of suspension, obtained by the M&G, it is clear Sars did not believe his denials, calling them “deceptive in nature and devoid of any truth”.

“Your submission is littered with half-truths and illustrates an unquenched intention to mislead and further hide the truth,” the letter says.

Sars told Richer in the letter that it had initiated disciplinary measures against other employees possibly implicated, in response to Richer’s claim that he was being unfairly targeted and singled out.

Richer’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. 

Additional reporting by amaBhungane reporters.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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