Why Sars unit was targeted

Johannesburg - The attacks on an elite investigative unit inside the SA Revenue Service (Sars) – branded as “illegal” and “rogue” – started the moment the unit began investigating a giant cigarette smuggling ring which included companies that, at one stage, involved the president’s son Edward Zuma and his nephew Khulubuse.

Smugglers and racketeers do not only have members of the Hawks and the intelligence community in their pockets, but have succeeded in getting the investigative unit – one of the most effective tools in the fight against tax evasion and organised crime – closed down.

Moreover, more than 50 top investigators and officials have left Sars during the last year or have been driven out of their jobs.

This orchestrated programme to destroy Sars’ anti-corruption capacity – which involved planting mendacious reports in the country’s biggest Sunday newspaper – also shows marked similarities to the modus operandi employed to work General Johan Booysen, one of the country’s best detectives, out of his job as head of the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal.

These are just a few of the allegations made by two former Sars officials in a book being launched on Wednesday.

In the book, Rogue: The Inside Story of Sars’ Elite Crime-busting Unit, Johann van Loggerenberg and former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay write that Sars started investigating tobacco smugglers in 2013.

Another company investigated by Sars at the time – but which is not identified by name in Van Loggerenberg’s book – is PFC Integration. The company is owned by Paul de Robillard, a one-time business partner of the president’s son Edward.

Until November 2011, Zuma was also a director of Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturing (ATM), another company that was in Van Loggerenberg’s cross-hairs.

Rapport previously reported that Zuma was also a shareholder in ATM until March 2012.

Another of the elite unit’s targets was the Mpisi group, under the leadership of Jen-Chi Huang, a Taiwanese businessman form KwaZulu-Natal. Huang accompanied President Jacob Zuma on a state visit to China in 2010. Huang and Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse have often had business dealings.

The book makes it clear that the onslaught against Sars began after Huang lost an extended court battle to have warrants set aside which had been issued for the seizure of alleged smuggled goods, held at Mpisi properties in Durban and Bedfordview, on Johannesburg’s East Rand.

In the same month the case was before the court, the first reports appeared in the Sunday Times in which Belinda Walter, a lawyer who had represented certain tobacco companies and previously had a relationship with Van Loggerenberg, alleged that he had unlawfully shared tax information regarding businesses and individuals with her.

After that, media reports made various extraordinary claims against Van Loggerenberg and Sars, including that they had run a brothel, spied on people “unlawfully” and had contravened security legislation.

The existence of this supposed rogue unit is still being investigated by the Hawks, but in the book Van Loggerenberg denies the unit was ever unlawful or that it operated in an unlawful manner.

Van Loggerenberg said they had often stumbled across leads and information that other state agencies would have preferred to hide.

Sars’ investigation into the tobacco industry followed in 2013, after it began suspecting that 40% of the cigarettes being sold in South Africa were being produced illegally or were smuggled into the country. That means tax losses of between R4 billion and R5 billion every year.

Van Loggerenberg writes that a joint team comprising some of Sars’ most senior and experienced investigators and officials began investigating and conducting inspections. “We also looked at the smaller players – but soon realised that they were only small in relation to what they were declaring to Sars, and big when it came to smuggling,” Van Loggerenberg writes.

“It was then that we realised we had come up against the interests of people with more influence and power than we could dream of in our wildest dreams.”

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