South Africa


Brazen assassination attempt as SA tobacco war gets deadlier

Sales of illicit cigarettes in South Africa reached an estimated 17 billion cigarettes a year. (Photo: Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash)

The assassination attempt on Simon Rudland, co-owner of Gold Leaf Tobacco Company in Johannesburg on 14 August 2019, highlights the ongoing high stakes in the highly lucrative, murky and largely unaccountable tobacco industry.

Simon Rudland, co-owner of Gold Leaf Tobacco Company, which has made the biggest inroads to the South African “cheapie” market, is also a member of the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association. He was wounded in the neck when nine shots were fired from a handgun as he arrived in his car outside the association’s offices in Orchards, Johannesburg.

Rudland was accompanied by his lawyer when the “hit” occurred in broad daylight. He was seriously wounded and is in intensive care.

The desperate attempt to eliminate a key executive of Gold Leaf, one of several smaller independent competitors to the tobacco “big boys”, comes as no surprise considering the damage the established tobacco industry has exacted in South Africa over decades.

From funding and lobbying political parties and individual politicians to spying on competitors and committed law enforcement officials, to evading tax (the country lost R3-billion in 2017/18 alone) to downright thuggery, the tobacco industry has contaminated almost all levels of society, to say nothing of the lungs of those addicted to their products.

Former SARS group executive Johann van Loggerenberg, in his no-holds-barred exposé of the filthy underbelly of the tobacco industry, Tobacco Wars — Inside the spy games and dirty tricks of southern Africa’s cigarette trade (NB Publishers) details other attempts to bump off whistleblowers or those perceived as competitors.

Van Loggerenberg writes that in 2019 “one tobacco grouping had allegedly used ‘gang networks’ in Reiger Park to carry out a (failed) assassination of tobacco whistleblower Luis Pestana, in an incident where his bodyguard, Gerard Strydom, was shot and wounded.”

In January 2019, a report compiled by a Western Cape police intelligence officer reported that a hit had been ordered on an employee of Carnilinx, controversial strongman and confessed killer Mikey Schultz.

Let us not forget that it was in the fecund 2010 embrace between established tobacco “big boys”, in collusion with corrupt government officials who formed part of the Illicit Tobacco Task Team which comprised the DPCI, the State Security Agency (SSA), SAPS Crime Intelligence Division and the NPA (but not SARS), as well as the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa, that the monster that is the SARS “rogue unit” narrative was birthed.

Later, this narrative was to shape-shift and morph into a lethal blunt political instrument used to hound former minister of finance Pravin Gordhan, former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and many others, and which today continues to be wielded (sometimes as the “rouge” unit as the Public Protector and the EFF term it) long after the original spy, attorney Belinda Walter, lobbed the first hand-grenade which shook the foundations of SARS in 2014.

As we now know, thanks to the findings of the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Tax Administration and Governance in SARS, Tom Moyane had already had several meetings with Jacob Zuma as well as Vittorio Massone, South African head of Bain & Co, to repurpose and capture SARS before Walter kicked down the door. This all occurred even before the disastrous appointment of Moyane.

The plan all along was to rid the once formidable and functioning South African Revenue Service — the engine room of government — of competent officials and to cripple and capture SARS, in the end to benefit a political and private economic elite.

Walter also worked as a spy for British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), acted as an attorney for competitors Carnilinx and was instrumental in setting up the original iteration of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA) in order to specifically spy on independent tobacco producers who were entering the market and seriously denting the sales and profits of the established Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA) group. TISA, established in 1991, includes BATSA, Alliance One International, JTI South Africa, Philip Morris South Africa and Imperial Tobacco Southern Africa.

FITA has since managed to wrest itself from the toxic collateral damage of Walter’s early involvement and today is a true representative of the independent tobacco players, such as Rudland and Gold Leaf.

Speaking to Daily Maverick, Van Loggerenberg said he had hoped to achieve several objectives with his in-depth exposé.

The dominant view in South Africa has always been that the smaller manufacturers were the evil guys, so evil that they not only did not pay taxes on sales, but smuggled people, illicit drugs and ran guns. Simultaneously, the famous old and big brands are presented as squeaky clean, and always ‘coming to the rescue of government and law enforcement’,” said Van Loggerenberg.

This was and is not the case as, said Van Loggerenberg, all players were involved in a variety of criminal activities.

The smaller players smuggle and manufacture off record, and these are easy to visualise for the normal person. The big boys play longer games and dirtier ones. They dominate markets, squeeze competitors out by any which way. Industrial spying is a free-for-all, they use old intelligence and law enforcement officials to leverage their networks in the agencies and basically capture them, under the pretext of ‘helping’, but what they really do is direct focus, resources and attention.”

While Base Erosion and Profit Sharing might be “boring and misunderstood” the fact remained that BATSA owes the Revenue Service R2-billion at present.

There’s a dispute, fair enough, but it is a massive number. The dirty tricks I explain in some detail in the book, with some examples.”

What was “incredibly shocking”, said Van Loggerenberg, was the “incestuous relationship between TISA, Forensic Security Services (FFS — TISA’s private investigative arm), BATSA, and BAT plc to an extent, and our Hawks, NPA, SSA, SAPS, SAPS and CI. It is State Capture and nothing else. Imagine these were the Guptas or Watsons? I give many examples of this in the book”.

Van Loggerenberg said that what he described as “red flags”, all popped up towards the end of 2013 into 2014.

Nobody listened. I give verifiable facts in the book. These show how multiple groupings, the oddest bedfellows and now multiple agendas began to conflate, one helping and bolstering the other.”

By 2013, Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing, owned by Edward Zuma’s business associate Yusuf Kagee, had already complained to President Zuma about SARS’ intentions to clamp down on the industry.

By this time we were onto the gangsters and Zuma knew and added to this. By then, the ANC T-shirt debacle had played out, as did the Robert Huang/Khulubuse Zuma matter. (SARS was investigating Huang’s Mpisi Trading 74 for an estimated R3-billion owed in taxes)”

As Daily Maverick’s Pauli van Wyk wrote in January 2018, “when SARS came knocking, President Zuma’s long-standing attorney and fixer, Michael Hulley, at first represented the Huangs”.

Van Loggerenberg said the SARS case against SSA agent Mandisa Mokwena and her husband Barnard, Lonmin’s “foremost representative” during the August 2012 strike at Lonmin that ended in the massacre at Marikana, “added to our woes”.

Mandisa Mokwena, a former business partner of one of former president Jacob Zuma’s wives, Thobeka Zuma, faced more than 50 charges of tender fraud and money laundering, but was later acquitted.

In 2013 Barnard and Mandisa Mokwena as well as Peter Silenga — an SSA agent linked to its special operations unit, established Kazol Resources. Silenga, according to City Press, was directly involved in the establishment of the Workers’ Association Union, a new labour union in Rustenburg which, said founding member Thebe Maswabi, had a “strict mandate to disempower Amcu by drawing members from it”. It later emerged that Jacob Zuma had a direct hand in establishing the rival union.

Said Van Loggerenberg: “Throw in Kazol Enterprises, the SSA secret account looting, the SAPS CI secret account looting, Nkandla, Guptas, Thoshan Panday (another Zuma business associate) and we simply had to go at all costs.”

He said by the end of 2013, “we were being spied on by at least the Guptas (as per #GuptaLeaks), FSS, Anti-Illicit Tobacco Task Team spies and SAPS CI. And none knew of the others yet. One of them had to move first. Ms Belinda Walter, completely oblivious of the hell-storm she was setting alight, provided this opportunity”.

By August 2014, before David Mahlobo had instructed the Inspector-General of Intelligence to investigate SSA agents’ role at SARS, the real “rogue unit” narrative was born, he added.

By then several players, from Crime Intelligence boss Richard Mdluli to Thulani Dlomo (who headed the SSA’s special operations unit) as well as Moyane, had all entered the fray, says Van Loggerenberg.

He said his book told many stories.

One is of the coup d’etat of SARS. How it began. The most fascinating of it all is that almost all of the content, in far greater detail, was put to the Sikhakhane panel. But nowhere in the ‘report’ is this even hinted at. Not once. It is as if none of what I had put to Sikhakhane exists. This was then carried through to the Kroon Advisory Board, Brassey/Van/As/Fourie/MMM, KPMG and later Brooklyn CAS 427/5/2015 and now the PP.”

The High-Risk Investigative Unit existed between March 2007 and October 2014 and conducted 81 investigations over this period.

Eighty-one and not a single such investigation involved ‘spy equipment’, interceptions, infiltration, penetrations, stings, surveillance of a nature for which legal authority was required at all.”

The SARS unit, said Van Loggerenberg, had been falsely accused of many crimes from using R500-million in secret funds, using “secret spy equipment”, illegal surveillance, break-ins, corruption, interfering in state cases, using tracking devices and of being former apartheid agents.

Here is perhaps the greatest irony of all. It was in fact the real rogues, as set out in the book, who were guilty of all of these things. Every single one. And I don’t make allegations. I put the facts there for the reader to decide. As one journalist said once — this was the ‘Stratcom’ of the decade with no end in sight. Equally ironic then, is essentially how a scam, designed and created by ‘WMC tobacco and their spooks’ has become the coat on the tails of which the RET crowd the EFF and PP are obliviously riding. Or is it obliviously?”

Van Loggerenberg, as well as many other SARS executives and officials, paid an enormous price in this vicious battle. They lost their jobs, were hounded by captured law enforcement agencies and had to fork out millions personally in legal costs.

A few people have since apologised. Apart from the Sunday Times which carried the original false “rogue unit” stories, retired Judge Frank Kroon, who headed the Kroon Panel of Inquiry apologised to Gordhan, Van Loggerenberg and others, as did Carte Blanche — which settled privately with Van Loggerenberg in 2015. FITA too recently apologised to Van Loggerenberg as did former Sunday Times journalist Malcolm Rees for the reports published in 2014.

Van Loggerenberg said two further journalists had also apologised to him privately.

By the time Van Loggerenberg left SARS in 2015, 15 criminal cases against tobacco manufacturers and importers — which, he writes, could have netted R3-billion for the fiscus in 2014/15 “seem to have disappeared”.

Go figure.

If I had three times the size of the final book, I would have filled that up with great ease. In fact, the original manuscript was about four times thicker,” said Van Loggerenberg. DM


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