To infinity and beyond
25 April 2017 10:26 (South Africa)
South Africa

SARS WARS: Suspension of the last remaining key official jeopardises ‘Tobacco War’ cases

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa
Photo by Lenny Hirsch via Flickr.

The last man standing in SARS’ Project Honey Badger investigation into the illicit tobacco industry has been suspended. The project was registered in 2013 when it became apparent that the fiscus was losing around R3-billion a year due to tax evasion, money laundering and corruption. Project Honey Badger targeted various tobacco industry players, including BAT, as well as smaller companies. It also sparked the first attack on SARS by spies and double agents and which ultimately resulted in the suspension of the entire top executive including Johann van Loggerenberg and Ivan Pillay. Now Kumaren Moodley of the Tactical Intervention Unit, one of five units once managed by Van Loggerenberg, has been shafted. His departure means that around 15 criminal cases lodged with the Hawks up to 2014 might never get to court. By MARIANNE THAMM.

While SARS has declined to comment on a notice to suspend Moodley handed to him earlier this month, the departure of this senior member of the revenue service will most certainly erode years of institutional memory with regard to several crucial investigations into major and minor players in the tobacco industry and running into billions of rand.

Daily Maverick has reliably learned that Moodley was notified of his impending suspension after SARS had approached the Hawks to obtain an affidavit (which has been seen by Daily Maverick) from a Johannesburg businessman. The affidavit was lodged in Bedforview on December 8, 2016 and relates to the importation of components for a tobacco manufacturing machine from Swaziland and the alleged placing of a tracking device on a vehicle transporting the equipment to South Africa.

The businessman, Daily Maverick has learned, was implicated in 2013 for his role in alleged money laundering and had made confessions to the Tactical Intervention Unit (TIU) and the High Risk Investigative Unit (HRIU) at the time.

He acted, according to his affidavit, as a“consultant” in the deal.

Curiously, Moodley’s name does not feature at all in the affidavit and it is unclear why he has suddenly been suspended.

SARS spokesperson Sandile Memela told Daily Maverick that HR policies and practices prohibited the discussion of “internal processes and employee information in the public domain”. Moodley, in turn, referred Daily Maverick’s queries to SARS media.

The TIU played a significant role in a number of high-profile cases including:

  • Robert Huang’s Mpisi Trading;
  • Hennie Delport’s Phoebus Apollo (Delport has several unresolved criminal, civil and tax claims);
  • Pan African Tobacco Group, the largest tobacco company in Africa and owned by Tribert Ayabatwa, a Rwandan industrialist accused of funding the genocide in that country. The UN froze his bank accounts and he was convicted in South Africa for customs and tax evasion; after he was prevented from trading in tobacco in South Africa, he set up United African Tobacco Manufacturers (UATM);
  • John Bredenkamp’s Zimbabwe-based tobacco company Masters International;
  • Yusuf Kajee’s Delta Tobacco which later re-opened as Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing (ATM) with the assistance of John Bredenkamp and a $20-million loan from an individual known as Mo Dollars who gave it to businessman Zunaid Moti to collect and which he in turn handed to Cape businessman Mark Lifman;
  • Adriano Mazzotti's CarniLinx;
  • Faizel Hattia's Royal Sonic, and
  • The global British American Tobacco, which SARS suspected owed around R800-million in unpaid or undeclared taxes.

The TIU was part of Johann van Loggerenberg and Gene Ravele’s portfolio at SARS. Van Loggerenberg managed five units of which TIU was one. It previously formed part of the Customs Border Control Unit. The TIU worked closely with other units in SARS including National Projects and the High Risk Investigation Unit (HRIU) which has been dubbed the “rogue unit”.

After the purging of SARS in 2015 the Honey Badger project limped along with Moodley as the head of the TIU. He was, effectively, the last man standing. His removal now places in jeopardy the cases against ATM, UATM, Carnilinx, Ayabatwa, Benson & Craig (the Botswana-based tobacco company part owned by apartheid killer Craig Williamson) and others involving millions of rand.

In November 2013 then SARS acting Commissioner Ivan Pillay notified tobacco companies that SARS was investigating their tax affairs. In May 2014 State Security and BAT double agent, attorney Belinda Walter, lodged a complaint against Van Loggerenberg (after their romantic relationship had soured).

Van Loggerenberg resigned, Pillay set up the Kanyane panel to investigate Walter’s claims. A year later the entire SARS executive, including Pillay, were purged by Commissioner Tom Moyane. The aftershocks continue. DM

Photo by Lenny Hirsch via Flickr.

  • Marianne Thamm
    marianne-thamm.jpg
    Marianne Thamm
  • South Africa

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles





Do Not Miss