Thick files running into thousands of pages of comprehensive documents, on the establishment and work of a special investigations unit in SARS and dating back to its inception, have been handed to three panels and inquiries tasked with scrutinising the legality of the unit. Why then would the Hawks – who have access to all this evidence – send a list of poorly-penned questions to the Minister of Finance, just days before he was due to deliver his budget speech? This current “investigation” by the Hawks has all the makings of a “witch hunt”. By MARIANNE THAMM.
The 27 questions which the Hawks have now claimed are merely an attempt at seeking “clarification” on an alleged covert “rogue unit” in SARS and that was established under Gordhan’s watch as commissioner, read like an amateurish fishing expedition.
Considering copious and detailed documentation available to Hawks investigators – including minutes of meetings with State Security Agency officials, various signed agreements as well as statements by key players – which were all submitted to the Khanyane and Sikhakhane panels, as well as an inquiry headed by Judge Kroon, the charges would have been drawn up by now if a criminal case was to be made.
Particularly considering this is a matter of national and international importance and involves the country’s revenue collection service and its Minister of Finance. And even more so considering an apparent “war” brewing between opposing factions within the ruling party.
Instead, the gist of the Hawks questions, apparently personally handed to Minister Gordhan by Hawks head Lieutenant General Berning Ntlemeza, appear more a diversion tactic or outright harassment rather than a real attempt at obtaining legal clarification.
While the Khanyane and Sikhakhane panels, as well as the inquiry headed by Judge Kroon, all had access to these documents, none of those implicated, including Gordhan, former Commissioner Ivan Pillay or group executive Johan van Loggerenberg were called to give evidence or were cross-examined. The veracity of the allegations into the “rogue” unit and any role in this by senior officials can only be tested in an arena where they are subject to impartial and legal cross-examination and evaluation in a court of law.
In this light then the current “investigation” by the Hawks has all the makings of a “witch hunt”.
Not a single of the Hawks’ 27 questions highlights or indicate which of the country’s laws, or sections of laws, may have been breached or violated in the SARS establishment of a unit to investigate serious organised crime and tax evasion in South Africa. Nor does it offer Gordhan any indication where he might have acted illegally in relation to any legislation that was applicable to his mandate.
Here is a full list of the questions, verbatim:
- Does the Minister have any knowledge about the disbandment of the National Research Group (NRG) in 2009 when you were the SARS Commissioner leading to the establishment of the High Risk Investigation Unit or the ‘Rogue Unit’?”
- Were there any inputs you gave for the establishment of the NRG or HRIU?
- Who were the stakeholders who would form part of this new unit?
- Do you still remember yourself as the then Commissioner for SARS recommending the funding model to the then Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel in Feb 2007 for “funding of an intelligence capacity within NIA in support of SARS?
- How were members of the Unit recruited/selected. Were SARS recruitment processes followed?
- How possible is that you recruit even before funding approval is granted for such a capacity to exist?
- Kindly share with us or provide a copy of the Agreement between NIA and SARS.
- What were the aims and objectives (mandate) of the new Unit and subsequent operating environments as it changed its name?
- Who was heading the Unit and to whom it was responsible and accountable to?
- Who were Janse van Rensburg, Johan de Wall and Johan van Loggerenberg, Ivan Pillay and Helgard Lombard at SARS and what were their positions roles and responsibilities within the Unit.
- As the Commissioner (Accounting Officer) for SARS at the time were you briefed about all key strategic operations.?
11.1 Do you know anything about operation code named “Sunday Evenings?” The bugging or installation of sophisticated surveillance equipment the NPA Offices?
11.2 Who authorised it, is this in line with SARS mandate?
11.3 What was its objective and targets?
- Do you know or still remember HRIU mandate or what was the mandate of the unit?
- Did the Minister of Intelligence (Ronnie Kasrils) approve the establishment and identify members of NIA to work within the HRIU? Provide evidence?
- Were there things at SARS (when you were commissioner) that would have happened without your knowledge?
- Did members of the HRIU appear on SARS normal employees’ payroll? Please why some if not all Unit members had 2 SARS identification cards (one with fake employee details)?
- If this Unit was operating legitimately, why were they operating from Guesthouses, hotels, restaurants and their private dwellings? Further why were they not provided with SARS laptops to store confidential information?
- How was the funding its operations managed, which cost centre(s) were employed?
- Who was the Head of the unit and to whom was it reporting?
- Where there any members of the HRIU who were not having personal files at SARS? Can you tell us why, if any?
- Who authorised the procurement of the surveillance equipment to be utilised during the Unit’s operations?
- What were Ivan Pillay’s functions at SARS from the period he started working until he retired? The functions must also include the period he was re-hired after submitting and early retirement from SARS and what are his academic qualifications?
- Do you still remember which year Ivan Pillay took early retirement?
- Is it normal in terms of Treasury or Pension Fund Regulations for any Department to exempt its employee from early retirement penalty?
- Why did you authorise that SARS must pay Ivan Pillay early retirement penalty to the tune of R1.2 million?
- Kindly explain why did SARS re-employ Pillay for three years and then extended his contract by five years? In short he was offered an additional 8 year employment contract. Why?
- We believe you are aware of the KPMG forensic investigations into the existence of Rogue Unit at SARS. Do you perhaps have a clue as to why such an investigation is conducted?
- Did the Minister of Finance receive KPMG report? If yes, have you read it since you took office or request to be briefed about its content by the Deputy Minister or the Commissioner? Have you made any contact with Judge Kroon, the chair of the SARS advisory Board on this matter who is supposed to advise both yourself and the Commissioner?”
A controversial KPMG forensic investigation into the same matter – and during which none of those fingered were interviewed or cross-examined – has been submitted to Commissioner Tom Moyane but with the proviso that it not be used “for the resolution or disposition of any disputes or controversies thereto and is not to be disclosed, quoted or referenced, in whole or in part”.
Commissioner Moyane instigated an apparent purge of senior SARS officials shorty after his appointment by Jacob Zuma, partly on the basis of leaked and untested reports to The Sunday Times newspaper about the “covert” or “rogue” unit. The paper was subsequently found to be in breach of several sections of the Press Code in that its reporting had been “inaccurate, misleading and unfair” and ordered that the paper apologise to Gordhan.
In his statement of support of Gordhan last week, ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, hinted at some in the party’s thinking with regard to the apparent Hawks investigation.
“In the event that the Hawks have anything to investigate related to the Minister and SARS, it would be in the best interest of our country if they did so professionally, using the correct channel and procedures and not seek to conduct a trial through the media,” said Mantashe.
That correct channel and those procedures would be through the country’s courts. DM
Photo: South Africa’s Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan delivers his 2016 budget address to the parliament in Cape Town, February 24, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings