SARS trio case postponed as NPA fumbles

The case against three former SARS officials dubbed the "Project Sunday Evenings" matter has been postponed after a last-minute application by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

Former South African Revenue Service (SARS) enforcement executive Johann van Loggerenberg, former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and Andries "Skollie" Janse van Rensburg made a brief appearance in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court on Friday.

Their application for parts B and C of the docket to be handed over by the State was set down to be heard in court on Friday but was postponed after a late application was brought by prosecutors.

It has been postponed to September 12 after the State argued that the removal of former National Director for Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams and the hospitalisation of Torie Pretorious, one of the prosecutors on the case, have hampered its ability to file papers timeously.

Prosecutors now have a little over a week to file responding papers to the application brought by the SARS three in July for the parts of the docket they have not yet handed over.

They face charges relating to "Sunday Evenings", a mysterious project that involved the installation of covert bugs in 2007 at the now dismantled Scorpions and NPA head offices in Silverton, Pretoria.

The installations were done by now suspended SARS employee, Helgard Lombard.

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg are accused of "unauthorised gratification by a party to an employment relationship" for allegedly allowing Lombard to "keep" R100 000 from the installation project.

Pillay and Janse van Rensburg meanwhile are charged with contraventions of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Transactions Act (RICA).

Lombard is a key witness against his former colleagues.

Delaying tactics

Shortly after the matter was called, the magistrate was forced to call for an adjournment as the charge sheet could not be found.

Claims that prosecutors were using delaying tactics in the matter emerged in court on Friday.

The NPA, represented by external counsel advocate Benny Buthelezi, denied this and said that the illness of Pretorious and the removal of Abrahams were to blame.

Pretorius was hospitalised on August 16 and Abrahams was removed on August 13, more than a month after the defence team filed its application for the remainder of the docket.

Advocate Laurence Hodes, SC, who appeared on behalf of Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and Janse van Rensburg, detailed how his team only received the application for postponement at 16:40 on Thursday – by which time the NPA had been aware of the application for the docket for more than a month.

"The acting NDPP (Silas Ramaite) may decide not to oppose the application for parts B and C, or he may not. We submit that in light of the voluminous nature and size of decisions the acting NDPP must make, we require a reasonable period of time to obtain his view," Buthelezi told the court. 

He emphasised several times that Ramaite needed time to familiarise himself with the case, but the time period asked for was not unreasonable.

Hodes said he would extend the proverbial olive branch so that the matter may be brought to trial quicker.

The State is now expected, on agreement between the parties, to file its responses to the application by the first week of September.