The upheaval at the South African Revenue Service, a crucial public institution, is a matter of significant public interest.
But Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane is now suing the Mail & Guardian and amaBhungane reporters for defamation following an article published in February.
The action threatens to limit the airing of information of public importance affecting the revenue service.
The story said Sars insiders had accused a group close to Moyane of grabbing control of a key revenue-generating division that deals with large corporations and wealthy individuals, the Large Business Centre (LBC).
It said Moyane’s critics believed this was an attempt by Moyane’s “new guard” to give themselves undue influence over settlement negotiations running into billions of rands.
His critics also claimed the restructuring at Sars had destabilised the service and undermined its ability to meet revenue targets in a tough economic climate.
The story cited a former senior official dismissing these views as “implausible” – but it contained no response from Moyane or Sars because the service failed to respond to detailed allegations, despite having almost a week to do so.
The published story is available here: http://amabhungane.co.za/article/2016-02-19-sars-w… and here: http://mg.co.za/article/2016-02-19-sars-wars-moyan…
Now Moyane, Sars Chief Officer Jonas Makwakwa and the revenue service itself are claiming a combined R4-million in damages.
Moyane and Makwakwa seek damages claims of one million rand apiece, with Sars seeking two million for “severe reputational damage”.
In their papers, the plaintiffs accuse the newspaper and amaBhungane reporters of defaming them “wrongfully and maliciously, with injurious intent “.
- Read the summons here
Moyane is also seeking a court order declaring that the article violated the secrecy provisions of the Tax Administration Act by disclosing interactions between Sars and three taxpayers, Taiwanese-South African businessman Robert Huang, Durban businessperson Shawn Mpisane and multinational financial services group Old Mutual.
The M&G’s legal team will file a notice of intention to defend the action.
The case may provide an important moment for a review of the blanket confidentiality over tax information, especially when disclosure of such information falls within the public interest.
In response to an earlier demand by Sars for an apology and retraction, M&G lawyer Dario Milo said the article was “clearly in the public interest and its publication was lawful”.
For further comment please contact:
M&G editor-in-chief Verashni Pillay on 011 250 7300
amaBhungane joint managing partner Sam Sole on 082 418 8944
The Mail & Guardian is South Africa’s best known independent weekly newspaper. See www.mg.co.za
The amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, previously the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism, is relaunching as Southern Africa’s pre-eminent investigative journalism non-profit. See www.amabhungane.co.za