On Wednesday SARS confirmed that the man who had headed the part of the organisation that has come to be known as the ‘Rogue Spy Unit’ (please note the inverted commas) had resigned with immediate effect. It also claimed that Johann van Loggerenberg was leaving amicably, and that all the matters pertaining to him had now been fully dealt with. Considering it was his unit that led to the suspension of SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay, a whole series of investigations, and claims that SARS is now badly damaged, it’s a big step. But it still doesn’t answer the real question: is this the beginning of the peace, or the beginning of the real war for control of SARS? By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The backstory to the SARS conflict is only slightly complicated. In 2007 SARS and the National Intelligence Agency decided to create a unit of intelligence agents who had the legal powers to tap phones and basically be James Bond – agents that would be trained by SARS and conduct investigations at the request of SARS. Then the NIA pulled out of the agreement, and SARS kept the agents, putting them to work under Van Loggerenberg.
It’s the ‘put them to work’ that is the source of contention here. Then Van Loggerenberg found himself ‘in a relationship’ with an attorney called Belinda Walter, who then claimed publicly that the unit he headed was running a brothel and spying on politicians. Van Loggerenberg was suspended, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane investigated, and then the brand new SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane suspended Pillay and SARS’ strategic head Peter Richer. Richer was reinstated, Pillay’s suspension was overturned, and then he was suspended again.
Which brings us up to Van Loggerenberg’s resignation.
In its statement announcing Van Loggerenberg’s resignation, SARS states: “SARS considers the matters fully and finally dealt with, completely so and in all respects.”
Van Loggerenberg himself has issued his own statement, in which he says, “I confirm that the matters between SARS and I have been fully and finally dealt with, completely so, and in all respects.”
The similarity in the language used could indicate that there was some serious negotiation about the content of the statement. It would seem then undeniable that everyone’s happy, and everyone’s moving on.
It’s been claimed several times that if Van Loggerenberg were running a “rogue spy unit” he must go, and so must everyone in SARS who knew about it. This would then include Pillay and Richer, who clearly knew about the unit, and may well have overseen it. However, the mere existence of a “unit” is not the real test. The real test of whether anyone should be punished or fired is whether that unit actually broke the law. In other words, did they act like James Bond and tap phones and break the law in other ways, without the legal authority to do so?
If they did, then they must be kicked out of SARS. But that is surely only the beginning. Because one would expect that the sanction for breaking our laws around phone-tapping, etc., would go further. You would expect, surely, that someone who does that would serve some serious time.
So then, if these matters have been “dealt with completely”, that would put SARS in a quandary; either they broke the law, or they didn’t. It can’t be as simple as just resigning.
When this is put to the SARS Executive for Employee Relations, Luther Lebelo, he is quite quick to say that “SARS reserves its rights” in this issue. And that if criminal conduct is found to have occurred, then SARS “would have an obligation to report this”. This would appear to mean that if the investigation does find van Loggerenberg and Pillay did break the law, or know that others were doing so, criminal charges could follow.
At this point, it’s important to know who’s conducting that investigation. It is – drumroll please – the Hawks. Considering that this is SARS and rogue spy units we’re talking about, one would expect the police officers that deal with priority crimes to be investigating, so that makes sense. However, unless you haven’t noticed, the Hawks are in a bit of a spot themselves at the moment. Their head has been suspended, and it seems that the unit is slightly divided. You could claim that we have a divided police unit investigating a divided revenue service… Not an ideal situation.
Elsewhere in Van Loggerenberg’s statement he says that he “fully and absolutely accepts” that Moyane has acted in good faith in the way he dealt with all of these issues, in the best interests of SARS itself. He even exhorts other SARS employees to support Moyane in the future. From someone who was tracking down politicians and others who don’t pay tax for a living, it’s a slightly odd thing to do. While it could be claimed that he has suddenly seen the light and realised that he was in the wrong and Moyane in the right, that would seem unlikely. Perhaps it was also the result of some negotiated language.
Perhaps the only way to know whether this is the end of the conflict within SARS, or merely the start of another front, is to watch what happens to Pillay. Lebelo says that for the moment Pillay remains suspended, and he will only return once the investigation is completed and if it clears him. When asked when that probe is likely to be finished, he says the investigators are independent and that it is at “an advanced stage”.
While we are going to have to wait for that probe to finish, it still seems impossible to believe that Pillay will be allowed back. He is an old SARS hand, he ran the place for over a year after Oupa Magashule left, and before Moyane was appointed. It’s hard to see them working together and trusting each other.
This would mean, then, that it would have to be either/or. Moyane has the whip hand here, as he was appointed by President Jacob Zuma, and therefore would surely have his support. Pillay would be in a position where he could try to stay on, and risk damaging an institution he’s helped to build through a damaging battle for control, or he could just pack up and go. And while SARS will still be efficient and the pride of our civil service, it’s going to be difficult to repair the perception of damage to the great institution. DM
Photo: Johann van Loggerenberg (Times Live)
There are more skin cancer cases related to tanning beds than there are lung cancer cases to smoking.