Former SARS officials accused of spying on Scorpions

The State's charge sheet against three former SARS officials, alleges that the accused monitored, recorded and transcribed conversations from the former Scorpions.

On Monday, Ivan Pillay, Andries Janse van Rensburg and Johann van Loggerenberg briefly appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court, charged with the illegal interception of communications and corruption relating to the installation of cameras at the offices National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which became known as Project Sunday Evenings.


Andries Janse van Rensburg, Ivan Pillay and Johan van Loggerenberg appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court. (Alex Mitchley, News24)

The SARS "rogue unit" case has been investigated by the Hawks since 2014 and has over the years been accused of being used as a political football against Public Enterprise Minister Pravin Gordhan.

The allegations against the SARS "rogue unit" have widely been debunked, but NPA spokesperson Phindi Louw insists that they are confident in their case.

The three officials have been accused of spying on the now defunct Scorpions and the NPA in 2007 through the equipment at the NPA's head offices in Silverton during the case of former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

The State has charged Pillay and Van Rensburg for allegedly contravening the RICA (the Regulation of Interception of Communication-Related Information Act). All three accused were also charged under the POCA (Prevention of Combating and Corrupt Activities Act).

The list of State witnesses includes beleaguered SARS executives Jonas Makwakwa and Tom Moyane as well as Vusi Pikoli who was the head of the NPA at the time, former NPA boss Menzi Simelane, former SARS employee Michael Peega, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, advocate Gerrie Nel and former Scorpions investigator Andrew Leask.  

READ: Gerrie Nel, Trevor Manuel, Vusi Pikoli are State witnesses in SARS 'rogue unit' case

According to the State's indictment, the charges against the three go to the heart of the allegations that a specialised investigative unit within SARS, known as the High-Risk Investigative Unit (HRIU), was conducting covert intelligence.

The State's case referred to the NSI Act, which states that no institution other than the country's national intelligence structures, can gather intelligence in a covert manner.

According to the State, approval to fund a special capability with the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) to supply SARS with the necessary information to address the illicit economy, was sought from the Minister of Finance in February 2007.

SARS, the charge sheet said, recognised that it lacked the capability, including the legislative mandate to manage and partake in clandestine activity.

"This special capability was being created within [the] NIA to focus on SARS work. SARS informed the Minister of Finance in February 2007 that discussions were taking place with the National Intelligence Agency to supplement SARS intelligence capability with a view to formalise the arrangement into a memorandum of understanding, yet took no steps to even make contact with NIA, nor was there a memorandum of understanding concluded," the charge sheet said.

The State said that SARS, under the management of Pillay and Van Rensburg, then established the HRIU without any involvement of the NIA in March 2007.

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The charge sheet alleges that Pillay and Van Rensburg, without permission from a designated judge in terms of the RICA Act, authorised members of the Special Projects Unit to install surveillance equipment at the offices of the Directorate of Special Operations (the Scorpions) and the NPA and to intercept communication within the NPA.

"Conversations amongst members of the DSO during the period October 3 to November 6, 2007 were monitored, recorded and transcribed without an authorisation from the designated judge."

The State alleges that the recorded conversations among members of the DSO were handed to Pillay and Van Rensburg at their insistence.

This was the same period of time when Selebi was issued with an arrest warrant for corruption. Selebi's arrest warrant was issued on September 10, 2007.

The state alleged that Van Loggerenberg knew when he later managed the HRIU that the process that was used to procure the transcripts of the conversation among members of the DSO was unlawful.

The charge sheet also alleged that Van Loggerenberg and Pillay authorised for SARS employee Helgard Lombard to retain R100 000, which remained after the surveillance equipment was fitted, for himself. This the State claimed was an unauthorised gratification which was not due to him.

The case was postponed to June 18 to allow the accused to make representations to the NPA as well as to have the State hand over the docket and other documentation to the defence.