Big name witnesses for SARS ‘rogue unit’ case

The list of witnesses the State will be drawing on in their case against a trio of ex-SARS officials is throwing up names well known during the trial of former police commissioner Jackie Selebi as well as beleaguered SARS executives Tom Moyane and Jonas Makwakwa.

Former SARS officials Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg, and Andries Janse van Rensburg briefly appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on Monday where they were charged with the illegal interception of communications and corruption relating to the installation of cameras installed at the offices National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which became known as Project Sunday Evenings.

The three have been accused of spying on the now defunct Scorpions and the NPA in 2007 through the equipment at the NPA’s head offices in Silverton during the Selebi case.

News24 has seen a copy of the State’s witness list which, aside from Moyane and Makwakwa, includes names such as Vusi Pikoli who was the head of the NPA at the time, former NPA boss Menzi Simelane, former SARS official Michael Peega, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, Advocate Gerrie Nel and former Scorpions investigator Andrew Leask.

According to the NPA’s charge sheet, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg directly or indirectly gave or agreed to give former SARS official Helgard Lombard the sum of R100 000 to carry out the spy operation.

Following court proceedings, the attorney for the three accused, Bernard Hotz told reporters that the State produced a shopping list of witnesses.

“It’s an interesting thing to note from the indictments that were served on my clients in court that the State has produced a shopping list of witnesses starting from Mr Moyane and including Mr Makwakwa with no address included for them.

“And when it gets to people like Trevor Manuel and when it gets to people like Gerrie Nel and Andrew Leask no addresses have been included in there.”

The charges are linked to investigations surrounding the so-called SARS “rogue unit” allegations which appeared in a series of articles in the Sunday Times newspaper in 2014.

The articles were later discredited by the press ombudsman and the paper retracted some of them.

The alleged bugging occurred in 2007 according to the newspaper and was allegedly sanctioned by the then SARS deputy commissioner Pillay.

Project Sunday Evenings was allegedly carried out by Janse van Rensburg, a former intelligence operative who first headed the SARS unit that would later be accused of executing “rogue” projects.

Nel was implicated in the Project Sunday Evenings narrative when it was reported that it was Nel who had contracted one of the “rogue unit” members to install spy equipment in the NPA’s Pretoria offices.

Peega is a disgraced member of the SARS investigative unit who was dismissed for rhino poaching.

He was said to be behind an intelligence dossier which accused the High-Risk Investigations unit at SARS of spying in 2010. The allegations seemingly went nowhere, until attorney Belinda Walter made the same allegations in 2014.

According to the Sunday Times‘ initial reports on Project Sunday Evenings, the SARS unit’s motive for spying on the NPA was to keep tabs on the progress with the prosecution of Selebi, who was later found guilty on charges of corruption relating to payments he’d received from convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti.

Other theories for the motive behind the alleged spying included that the SARS unit wanted information on investigations by the NPA and now disbanded Scorpions into Jacob Zuma, while Zuma was still deputy president.

The broader “rogue unit” narrative, including Project Sunday Evenings, has been branded a smear campaign that had the intention of discrediting and ultimately getting rid of the High-Risk Investigations Unit.

This unit was set up inside SARS to investigate high-profile tax offenders and which successfully took on some of this country’s top criminals, highly placed politicians and tax dodgers.

Prosecutors told the court on Monday that the matter would be transferred to the High Court and that the court impose bail of R5000 each on the accused.

Defence advocate Laurence Hodes argued against the bail, saying that two of the accused were abroad and returned to South Africa to appear in court after receiving the summons.

“They will not evade their trial in any way. They wish to prove their innocence and make representations that will demonstrate they are innocent,” said Hodes.

The magistrate dismissed the State’s application for bail to be imposed and released the accused on a warning, adding that they not make contact directly or indirectly with any of the witnesses and that they inform the investigating officer if they are planning to leave the country.

Gauteng NPA spokesperson Phindi Louw said the authority is confident in the case, because they had identified elements of criminality.

She said investigations were ongoing and that they would not rule out the possibility of more accused being added to the matter.

The case was postponed to June 18 to allow the accused to make representations to the NPA as well as to have the State handover the docket and other documentation to the defence. — News 24

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Alex Mitchley
Alex Mitchley
South African Journalist at News24

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