Emails involving Hawks and NPA lead to ‘hostage’ drama at Sars office

For more exclusive details on the contents of the secret cellphone recordings, click HERE

A string of emails involving the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) case against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan led to an alleged “hostage” drama at a Pretoria office of the SA Revenue Service last week.

The Mail & Guardian has seen cellphone video clips of an altercation between senior Sars employee Vlok Symington, four Hawks officials and the bodyguard of Sars Commissioner Tom Moyane.

Among them was Brigadier Nyameka Xaba, the Hawks’ lead investigator in the case against Gordhan.

Symington, employed in the legal and policy division of the revenue service, was allegedly held in a boardroom against his will and prevented from leaving even though he repeatedly asked whether he was being held “hostage”.

In the recordings the M&G has seen, Symington can repeatedly be heard shouting that he is “being held against my will” and “being held hostage”.

The M&G has requested comment from all parties involved and will update this article with comments later.

This bizarre incident was triggered by an email Moyane had seemingly shared in error. The chain of events kicks off with lead prosecutor Torie Pretorius emailing Xaba to obtain a statement from Symington just before 5pm on October 17.

A few minutes later, at 5.07pm, Xaba asks Sars lawyer David Maphakela to deal with the NPA’s request as a matter of urgency. It is then that Maphakela emails Moyane the following message:

“Kindly find this for your urgent attention. On ethical reasons, I cannot be involved in this one, as I hold a different view to the one pursued by the NPA and the Hawks.”

At some point after this exchange, Moyane handed a hard copy of the request along with the email trail to Symington.

By Moyane’s own doing, this note has now found its way into the public domain and raises serious questions about whether Sars’s own lawyer disagrees with the prosecution of Gordhan.

Maphakela’s email to Moyane was attached to a set of questions drafted by Pretorius. Pretorius’s questions were addressed to Symington.

Maphakela’s email, marked as “urgent”, was sent on October 17 at 5:15pm to Moyane and chief officer of human capital and development Teboho Mokoena.

The questions to Symington relate to his 2009 written legal opinion on whether the revenue service was allowed to agree to Pillay’s early retirement request, the payout of his pension fund and a waiver of the early retirement penalty as well as his re-appointment on contract thereafter.

Symington’s legal opinion, a copy of which the M&G has seen, stated that there was “no technicality” that prevented Sars from reappointing Pillay and that he was “entitled” to request Gordhan (minister of finance at the time, during his first round) to waive the early retirement penalty.

Gordhan and former Sars colleagues Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula have recently been charged with fraud, and theft in the alternative, after Moyane laid charges. They are scheduled to appear in court next week.

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Pauli van Wyk
Pauli van Wyk is a Scorpio investigative journalist. She writes about the justice cluster, state-owned companies, state politics and the inescapable collision course they're on. Pauli cut her teeth at Media24. She became a journo at Beeld, was trained by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and joined Mail & Guardian's investigative team before becoming a member of Scorpio.

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