Sars exec denies using taxpayer money for his own benefit
The head of employment relations at the South African Revenue Service (Sars) has discounted claims that he spent over R759 000 in taxpayers money on lawyers to clear his name before the Nugent commission.
This comes after revelations on Friday that Sars was sitting with an invoice of R759 000 from legal firm Mashiane Moodley and Monama Inc (M4 Attorneys) after group executive for employment relations, Luther Lebelo, had asked them to compile documents related to the so-called rogue unit.
The Sars commission — headed by retired Judge Robert Nugent — is probing issues of tax administration and governance at the revenue service.
Lebelo — who has been labelled a “hitman” for suspended commissioner Tom Moyane — used these files to illustrate why he decided to take disciplinary action against former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, enforcement head Johann van Loggerenberg and spokesperson Adrian Lackay.
Lebelo told the commission that he had asked for the files to assist the commission in its work and the impression that he had spent R759 000 to clear his name had “caused so much damage and pain clearly because it is not correct”.
Lebelo explained he had instructed lawyer David Maphakela of M4 Attorneys to retrieve files on the rogue unit and to prepare a report on how the evidence was linked.
He claimed he too was shocked when days before he was scheduled to appear before the commission, he received a bill of close to R1-million. When he queried the invoice with the firm, they reduced the amount to R759 000, which he says he is still unhappy with and has not signed.
Lebelo said the only reason he had requested assistance from M4 Attorneys is because they were the lawyers in charge of the rogue unit case when it initially unfolded.
“The important principles were that the invoice was brought to me from people who were supposed to retrieve the files that were existing. It was exorbitant, they reduced it, I was going to question it again until I get to the bottom of the matter,” said Lebelo.
Evidence leader Advocate Carol Steinberg said the basis on which the impression was created that the files were prepared for Lebelo’s benefit rather than that of Sars was because of his own testimony before the commission.
“On repeated occasions in his testimony Mr Lebelo said he had come to clear his name,” said Steinberg.
Reading an extract from the transcript of Lebelo’s testimony, Steinberg quoted Lebelo saying he had been called a “Moyane hitman” involved in a purge of his fellow employees.
“I want to come to tell the truth and the story that [if] unknown, the stigma of being a suspension hitman will continue for the rest of my life”, read Steinberg adding that there were numerous occasions where Lebelo had said he wanted to clear his name.
Steinberg also put it on record that it is inaccurate that all that Maphakela was asked to do is collect files.
This was one aspect of the invoice provided by Maphakela.
“What Mr Maphakela is doing according to his invoice is that he is making a case and he is writing submissions for Lebelo to come to this commission.
“He is asked to link evidence, explore evidence, investigate the evidence and put it into a report. There are repeated meetings with Mr Lebelo,” said Steinberg.
Lebelo rejected this saying all he asked Maphakela to do is gather the documents and write a report or index explaining how the “evidence was linked to each other”.
Maphakela also appeared at the commission on Monday represented by his lawyer William Mokhari SC.
Maphakela refused to give oral evidence and told the commission through his legal counsel that he preferred to give evidence in writing as provided for by the commission’s regulations. He added that had already addressed the issues that the commission had raised with him, in submitted affidavits.
Nugent ruled against Maphakela’s request to not give oral evidence, saying the decision to have oral or written evidence is made based on what is most convenient for the commission.
“Mr Maphakela’s view that we should accept that his affidavit is the end of the matter, I regret to say that’s not the case… It is the ruling of the commission that we would like to hear his evidence orally,” said Nugent.
Maphakela will now challenge the ruling in court.