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SA Revenue Service blocks access to Zuma’s tax records, again

SA Revenue Service blocks access to Zuma’s tax records, again
Illustrative image | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photos: Gallo Images / City Press / Tebogo Letsie | Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle | Rawpixel)

The South African Revenue Service continues to deny amaBhungane and the Financial Mail’s requests for access to former president Jacob Zuma’s tax records despite the seminal judgment of the Constitutional Court handed down in May 2023.

The South African Revenue Service (Sars) will not reveal former president Jacob Zuma’s tax records, despite a Constitutional Court ruling that blanket tax secrecy is unconstitutional. 

In a letter dated 1 December 2023, Sars said it cannot provide Zuma’s tax returns for the years 2010 to 2018 – the years he was in office – because, among other reasons, the records would not reveal evidence of a substantial contravention of or failure to comply with the law. 

Zuma has been credibly accused of failing to file annual tax returns while he was president.

For an individual occupying such high office, failure to do so represents a serious contravention of the law and it is the public’s right to know whether this is the case.

The tax authority did not describe which test it applied in determining its decision, which means the public still has no idea whether the former president has ever filed annual tax returns for the years he was in office.

AmaBhungane and the Financial Mail first submitted a Promotion of Access to Information Act (Paia) request to Sars in February 2019. 

Following protracted litigation between the tax authority and these media organisations, the Constitutional Court handed down a landmark judgment in May 2023. 

The court ruled that certain provisions within the Tax Administration Act and Paia were unconstitutional in that they provided blanket protections, guaranteeing taxpayer secrecy. 

The court said there should be a “public interest override” that allows for some information to be released through mechanisms like Paia. The court also gave Parliament two years to fix the flaws in the law.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The curious history of litigating for access to Zuma’s tax records

With the judgment in hand, AmaBhungane and the Financial Mail approached Sars with a revised Paia application in October 2023. 

In addition to the tax returns, the updated Paia request also sought documents and correspondence that would indicate how Sars dealt with any issues relating to the former president’s tax affairs and how they communicated with other law enforcement agencies concerning these matters.

It also included specific requests for information that would indicate the nature of the relationship between Zuma and Royal Security – owned by ANC-linked businessman Roy Moodley – insofar as his tax obligations were concerned.

This was done to establish whether Zuma was, in fact, on the payroll of Royal Security for a period whilst already president, as alleged in Jacques Pauw’s book The President’s Keepers.

In relation to these additional documents, Sars argued that some of the records we requested did not exist or could not be found, while other records were denied on the basis that they could impede a criminal prosecution and thus possibly result in the miscarriage of justice.

Sars specifically referred to the trial currently under way in the KwaZulu-Natal High Court. These proceedings relate to charges of corruption Zuma is facing in relation to the 1999 Arms Deal. 

The tax authority did not explain how our request, which centres on his time in office encompassing the tax years 2010 to 2018, would jeopardise proceedings at a trial relating to the Arms Deal, which was signed in 1999. 

Sars also noted that neither Zuma nor Royal Security provided written consent to release the records. 

It is unclear whether the tax authority asked either for a response.

The Sars tax case echoes another Paia battle to force the ANC to release minutes from the party’s cadre deployment committee.

The Democratic Alliance applied for access to the records in terms of Paia in 2021. Last week, the Constitutional Court turned down the ANC’s final bid to keep the documents secret and gave the party five days to hand over the records.

AmaBhungane and the Financial Mail will continue to engage with Sars in the Zuma tax records case; this will include asking for more information about the records that Sars was unable to locate.

We also intend to refer the refusals to the Information Regulator on appeal.

We believe that excessive tax secrecy, especially in the case of taxpayers who are grievously contemptuous of their responsibilities, benefits only the rich and powerful, whether they are individuals or corporates.

The Zuma matter is therefore an important test case. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Nick Griffon says:

    Arrest Edward Kieswetter for contempt of court.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Get this government out so we can start enforcing law, and applying it equally to all our citizens.

    Vote DA.

  • Simon Schaffer says:

    Thieving lying corrupt old man who cared nothing for the law of the land. May you rest in hell JZK.

  • Les Thorpe says:

    SARS obviously doesn’t want to disclose the fact that they treated Old Zupta (and most probably many other politicos) differently from other tax payers. In a properly run country with ethical standards, e.g. Norway, every citizens’ tax records are freely available for scrutiny. SARS is just part of the nation’s number one crime syndicate: still trying to hide behind legislation which favours the politicians over the citizens.

  • Les Thorpe says:

    And this is just another instance where one of the ANC’s organisations simply ignores “unfavourable judgements” and there are no consequences.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    SARS treated Zuma just like any other taxpayer, there’s nothing to see here, move along.

    In other news the Union Buildings are to be converted into a sustainable unicorn ranching facility.

  • Matthew Quinton says:

    Remind me again why we should be tax compliant? I am SO sick of funding a criminal organisation while I still have to pay for private EVERYTHING because nothing that used to be provided by the state works anymore.

  • Skinyela Skinyela says:

    “Sars also noted that neither Zuma nor Royal Security provided written consent to release the records.”

    This wording seems to suggest that such records exist.

    It is clear, according to the determination of SARS, that the request by amabhungane did not satisfy the test of exceptional circumstances and public interest.
    They can challenge that determination in court.

    On the minutes of the ANC’s deployment committee meetings, the constitutional Court has ruled that cadre deployment is not unconstitutional, so whatever is on those minutes becomes moot.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      “On the minutes of the ANC’s deployment committee meetings, the constitutional Court has ruled that cadre deployment is not unconstitutional, so whatever is on those minutes becomes moot.”

      That may be but it hasn’t stopped it being a major cause of the FUBAR state we find ourselves in as a country.

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      What saddens me is how we debate semantics while the ship sinks. Who cares?

      First, we need to look honestly to identify and acknowledge what is really right and what is really wrong.

      Then, we need to strive together to be better, taking the hard decisions to do so, regardless of whether they hurt our pride.

      • Middle aged Mike says:

        Hear bloody hear. The fact that something passes a legal test doesn’t even hint at it being the right thing to do and the more money is spent on the test the more likely it is that it’s not.

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