In this extract of a chapter of his latest book, The President’s Keepers – Those keeping Zuma in Power and out of Prison, JACQUES PAUW deals with the R388-million tax bill of Capeland gangster Mark Lifman and how the “new SARS regime” under the leadership of Tom Moyane let him off the hook. Named Project All Out and started in 2013, the Lifman investigation was driven by the National Projects Unit. This unit resided under Johann van Loggerenberg, but was entirely separate from the High-Risk Investigation Unit, which the media and Moyane branded as the “rogue unit”. This story illustrated the ultimate deceit and dishonesty of Moyane and his henchmen.
In the shadow of one of the world’s natural icons – Table Mountain – lurks a web of sleaze and skulduggery, ruled by nightmarish mobsters and ruffians. Many have relocated from far away to peddle their trade in narcotics, women and bouncers on the shores of Cape Town. Some have settled in idyllic Camps Bay or Clifton while others trade from seaside flats in Sea Point and Three Anchor Bay. Their nicknames often give away their origin: Hoosain “the Moroccan” Ait-Taleb and Yuri “the Russian” Ulianitski. After Yuri died in a hail of bullets, Igor “the New Russian” Russol took his place. They have in turn merged with local gangsters to form one of the most feared criminal gangdoms in the world.
One figure has over the past decade repeatedly emerged from this murky underground domain: Mark Roy Lifman, often referred to as a “businessman- gangster”. The clean-shaven and square-jawed Lifman, his coiffed hair neatly parted on the side as he slides in his designer clothes into an array of super cars, cuts a suave and sophisticated image. He is a far cry from his “business associate”, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen (donkie is Afrikaans for donkey), head of the Sexy Boys gang on the Cape Flats.
According to the Mail & Guardian, Lifman was closely associated with Yuri and joined him at a restaurant hours before the Russian was mowed down. They were co-owners of a strip club in Sea Point. Lifman was also linked to bouncer boss and club owner Cyril Beeka, another mobster who was later assassinated.
After Beeka’s death, Lifman filled the void with his own security company and linked up with Ait-Taleb. Their security company had about 350 doormen or bouncers working at 146 clubs throughout the city. That was roughly 60 per cent of the province’s nightlife. It is important to remember that bouncers at doors determine what drugs from whom enter the premises.
The Mail & Guardian described Lifman as a “shrewd businessman” and quoted Igor Russol as saying that “any business he opens will make money”. Underworld sources say that, after owning a taxi company and gambling businesses in Sea Point, Lifman became a property developer, working with gangster Jerome Booysen. He also opened strip clubs in the city.
At the time of writing, full-scale warfare has again taken hold of the streets of Cape Town, this time allegedly between a gang linked to Lifman and that of an East European, Nafiz Modack, who was previously involved in an alleged scam with luxury cars. More reports surfaced, stating that Eastern European men were being brought into Cape Town to assist a planned coup of Lifman and Booysen’s turf by Modack. Other reports followed of people shot, two murders and many assaults.
Lifman, linked to corruption, fraud, money laundering, drug trafficking, cigarette smuggling and transnational organised crime, has over the years miraculously escaped prosecution and prison time. In 2009, Lifman was acquitted on charges of indecently assaulting seven boys and attempting to murder their alleged pimp. As so often in the past, it was left to SARS to bring Lifman down. They ultimately presented him with a tax bill of R388 million at the beginning of 2015.
This case should have been settled by now. SARS started investigating Lifman in October 2013 after it appeared that he hadn’t paid taxes for years. The investigation, named Project All Out, followed an earlier unsuccessful Project Boy and was headed by a tough and experienced tax detective, Keith Hendrickse, the Western Cape head of the National Projects Unit of SARS.
National Projects resided under Johann van Loggerenberg, but was entirely separate from the High-Risk Investigation Unit, which the media branded as the “rogue unit”. This is important for the purposes of this story because it will illustrate the deceit of Tom Moyane and his henchmen.
The Lifman investigation was massive and expensive. Apart from Hendrickse and his team, SARS appointed attorneys and advocates and the audit firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to penetrate Lifman’s entangled finan- cial empire. They investigated 35 close corporations, companies and a trust. According to a SARS document, Lifman was also a loan shark and a debt collector, “particularly within the domain of the illicit and underworld role-players”. Lifman used Booysen and his Sexy Boys gangsters to do the collections. Fifty per cent of the collected money was kept as commission.
Lifman also had links with the so-called Johannesburg crowd, led by bouncer and self-confessed Brett Kebble killer Mikey Schultz. He was in turn connected to Czech mobster Radovan Krej?í? and none other than cigarette manufacturer Adriano Mazzotti and Carnilinx.
It is widely known among underground criminals that a fierce competitor of Carnilinx, the tobacco manufacturer Yusuf Kajee (whose fellow director/ shareholder was Edward Zuma), owed someone some serious money: twenty million, in fact. This followed the demise of Kajee’s earlier venture into tobacco manufacturing, which was in the process of being shut down by SARS. Kajee needed money, and he needed it fast. He borrowed “twenty bar” from a loan shark, but wasn’t paying back according to the agreement. Carnilinx’s director Adriano Mazzotti met Lifman and Booysen in early November 2013 at the Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town. He was accom- panied by Carnilinx’s lawyer, Belinda Walter. Little did any of them know that she was a spy for whoever was willing to pay for their secrets. Mazzotti has publicly admitted to this meeting and explained that Lifman had contacted him beforehand about it. He explained that they discussed ways of expanding their cigarette business into the Western Cape.
What I came to learn from insiders in the tobacco industry was that the Carnilinx crowd had a more devilish plan for Kajee up their sleeve. They wanted to choke his business at the same time. They knew of Kajee’s debt problem and arranged that Lifman and Booysen “take over” the debt collection. Kajee was suddenly under significant financial pressure from Lifman, Booysen and their bouncer goons to pay his debt. These events appear to have propelled Lifman into the proximity of illicit cigarette traders. Somehow, attorneys Ian Small-Smith and Belinda Walter seem to have been involved in trying to assist the Carnilinx vendetta against Kajee. In September 2013, the Tobacco Task Team conducted a raid on Kajee’s business under the pretext of contraventions of immigration laws. Small-Smith and Walter had inside knowledge of this raid. In text exchanges between them, on the same day of the raid, it is clear that they knew of it, discussed it and exchanged thoughts on getting this to the attention of the media in an apparent attempt to pile up more pressure on Kajee.
Indeed, in September 2013, newspapers carried stories of the raid on Kajee’s company in Pietermaritzburg. Kajee retorted by laying criminal charges against members of the Tobacco Task Team who raided him. He accused them of damaging his property, obtaining a search warrant under false pretences and assaulting his workers. Nothing seems to have come of this.
In a 2014 affidavit, SARS acting commissioner Ivan Pillay said of the Lifman case: “SARS officials involved in the case have received several death threats and one official’s home was burgled. The home of one of the per sonnel contracted by SARS to deal with the Lifman inquiry was also burgled and only laptops [were] stolen.”
By early 2014, SARS had concluded its full-scale inquiry and audit in terms of section 50 of the Tax Administration Act into Lifman’s tax affairs. More than ninety witnesses testified at this tax inquiry. SARS presented Lifman with a tax bill of over R350 million, which had in the meantime risen to R388 million. PricewaterhouseCoopers oversaw the final figures of the audit. This was followed by a year of litigation between SARS and Lifman, which he ultimately lost.
In one of his failed court applications, Lifman described himself as a “maverick businessman” and likened himself to an early Johannesburg “Randlord”, a name given to the entrepreneurs who controlled the gold mining industry in South Africa in its pioneering phase. “I’m like Barney Barnato. I chase the gold, not taking much notice of what is in my path to get there. So I will go off the beaten track to get there . . . Does that make sense to you? I am spontaneous.”
At the time, Lifman’s financial assets included more than a hundred accounts at four different banks, trendy clothing stores, an extensive property portfolio and at least 14 luxury vehicles. Among his assets was an upmarket brothel, the Embassy. SARS also found a bank account with more than R20 million in cash and 14 luxury vehicles, including three Porsche Cayennes. SARS penalised Lifman for a host of infringements, including tax evasion, failing to submit tax returns, making false disclosures and instructing his tax advisers to miscalculate his tax.
Let us stop for a moment. It is important to remember that after Van Loggerenberg, Pillay and the others left SARS in late 2014 and early 2015, Lifman’s tax case was inherited by Tom Moyane and his new appointees. Lifman was ready to be taken down and his taxes collected. The once well-oiled SARS machine would have seen this case through with little resistance. Millions should already have flowed into state coffers and ultimately resulted in an alleged gangster being financially crippled and possibly facing criminal charges. But hold onto your seat because what followed next is nothing but sabotage of the national fiscus. And once again, somewhere on the horizon, hovers the figure of Jacob Zuma as well as his family.
In April 2015, City Press said that Tom Moyane was approached to “go easy” on Lifman as the businessman “is an important man because of his money and influence and his proximity to powerful people”. The City Press story has not been challenged or contested since its publication and the allegations, said the newspaper, were verified by four different sources. My sources told me that Lifman is known for his political connections and not shy to flaunt and brag about them. In 2014, he was photographed by the Sunday Times at President Jacob Zuma’s birthday rally in Athlone, Cape Town, in the company of ANC provincial chairperson Marius Fransman. Lifman wore an ANC T-shirt (imported from China by another Zuma devotee) and had VIP access to the stage, which required clearance by Zuma’s bodyguards.
Lifman approached SARS several times with promises to settle his bill and become tax compliant. He always seemed to cancel the meetings at the last moment and has shown complete disdain for the tax service. At one time, he allegedly offered to pay SARS R30 million as a final and full settlement of his tax bill. The tax collector rejected his offer.
Word must have reached the State Security Agency (SSA) that Lifman wanted to settle. On 26 February 2015, the director-general of the SSA, Sonto Kudjoe, wrote to Moyane personally and pleaded with him to reject Lifman’s overtures. Kudjoe referred Moyane to an interdepartmental task team that was established in October 2012 to bring down Lifman. The team consisted of members of the SSA, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the police and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC). Said Kudjoe: “It has been confirmed that the mentioned individual, Mark Roy Lifman, is involved in criminal activities including transnational organised crime.” She said this encompassed intimidation, corruption, cigarette smuggling, drug trafficking, paedophilia and money laundering.
“If the individual settles with the revenue service it is of concern to the SSA that the individual and his syndicate will continue with their illicit activities. Of particular concern to the SSA is the impact that the syndicate has on the social stability of specifically the Western Cape and the possible influence of the syndicate on gang turf wars.”
This is an astonishing letter for a number of reasons. The first is that although it is commendable that the state wanted to bring Lifman to book, the exclusion of SARS from the task team is bewildering. Lifman could long ago have been prosecuted on the strength of the SARS investigation against him for at least tax evasion, money laundering and possibly fraud. Why has it not been done? Why didn’t this interdepartmental team cooperate with Van Loggerenberg, Hendrickse and the SARS team?
The second concern is that the task team was established in October 2012, and almost five years later, as I am sitting writing this book, Lifman remains untouched and possibly stronger than ever. In fact, in the last few months, as the street war broke out in Cape Town, bodies have begun to pile up in Lifman’s vicinity.
What exactly has this task team been doing all these years? There were several opportunities to get Lifman and his cohorts in the dock. The Sunday Times reported in February 2014 that Lifman’s Porsche was parked at a house belonging to Booysen’s sister and her husband. Both were also known gangsters. Police confiscated three kilograms of tik (an illicit methamphetamine-type concoction) and more than 5,000 Mandrax tablets at the house. Where was the task team? What has happened to this interdepartmental team? Nobody seems to know. DM
This is a revised final extract from the publisher.
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved