Fresh challenge for Nugent commission as Lebelo throws down the gauntlet | Fin24
 
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Fresh challenge for Nugent commission as Lebelo throws down the gauntlet

Nov 27 2018 15:00
Fin24

South African Revenue Service Group Executive for Employment Relations Luther Lebelo has become the latest executive to challenge the commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance headed by retired judge Robert Nugent.

Lebelo has submitted a sworn affidavit stating that his submissions to the commission are being "deliberately suppressed".

The affidavit, dated November 23 and signed at the Mondeor SAPS, Johannesburg, notes that on 27 and 28 September 2018, Lebelo appeared before the Commission and presented oral evidence.

Subsequently he sought legal advice and was advised to provide further evidence in the form of a sworn statement, Lebelo adds, which he did on 21 October, and additionally provided further oral evidence.

"I note with serious concern that the affidavits, presentations and any form of evidence presented by persons who appeared before the Commission have been uploaded on the website of the Commission and for whatever reason the Commission deemed fit, my affidavit submitted on 21 October 2018 is still not uploaded."

The abovementioned affidavit dealt with the questions the commission had directed at him, Lebelo says.

The commission's conduct leads him to believe that his evidence is being "deliberately suppressed", the affidavit says, and "proceed with the narrative that seeks to lead adverse findings against me".

Dodgy payments?

Giving evidence at the inquiry, Lebelo was questioned about several payments made under his watch, including lawyers’ invoices in a matter labelled unrelated to the official duties of the commissioner or the tax service.

At the time, Lebelo told the commission it was not his responsibility to question the invoices, but to make ensure that the services that SARS was being billed for actually took place.

In his affidavit, Lebelo mentions an alleged R3m bribe paid to Andries 'Skollie' Janse van Rensburg to leave SARS, which Lebelo claims was disguised as a settlement agreement for a death in Janse van Rensburg's family to prevent him "exposing the alleged criminality" in the revenue service.

This, Lebelo says, is revealed in an email from Janse van Rensburg where he promises he did not "divulge anything to anybody".

The payment, widely described as a severance payment in media reports, was mentioned in the charge sheet in Pillay's internal disciplinary hearing. Janse van Rensburg has consistently denied involvement in illegal activity.

'Rogue unit'

As head of labour relations, Lebelo also played a role in the events around suspension of former deputy SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay on December 5, 2014. 

The commission heard that Lebelo briefed a legal firm to gather documents related to the so-called rogue unit. The rogue unit controversy emerged following a series of stories first published, and later retracted, by the Sunday Times.

The recent affidavit discusses in some detail former group executive Johan van Loggerenberg, Pillay, former group executive for strategic planning and risk Pete Richer, and other senior employees relating to the 'rogue unit', saying Lebelo had "nothing to do" with allegations by attorney Belinda Walters, who was at the time in a relationship with Van Loggerenberg.

It does, however, challenge the "prevailing narrative in the media", saying the tax affairs of Walters-linked tobacco company Carnilix were resolved "long before" former Commissioner Tom Moyane joined SARS.

It further alleges that there are numerous "misrepresentations" relating to the unit, particularly by Pillay, and claims that reports submitted by unit members themselves demonstrate that they were involved in illegal activities, including covert spying on SARS employees and making use of informers.

KPMG SA in September 2017 officially withdrew the findings of its 'rogue unit' report after an investigation by KPMG International, and offered to repay the R23m fee it had received. KPMG International concluded that the report into the SARS investigative unit – contracted by now axed SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane – was wrong to suggest that now Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan "knew, or out to have known, of the establishment by SARS of an intelligence unit in contravention of the rule of law that was ‘rogue’ in nature". 

In the first interim report of the Nugent commission, meanwhile, submitted to President Ramaphosa in late September, the inquiry's chair retired Judge Nugent stated: "I have not yet found why the creation and existence of unit was said to have been unlawful, which it how it was consistently and uncritically depicted."

Project Sunday Evenings

Lebelo comments in detail on "Project Sunday Evenings", which allegedly involved the installation of covert bugs in 2007 at the now-dismantled Scorpions’ and NPA head offices in Silverton, Pretoria. The installations were conducted by suspended SARS employee Helgard Lombard, who has since turned state witness. 

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg are accused by the NPA of allegedly allowing Lombard to "keep" R100 000 from the installation project, Fin24 previously reported. They, along with Janse van Rensburg, who also faces related charges, all maintain they are innocent.

Lebelo – who says he has "no view on whether or not these [projects] are legal" – does, nonetheless, capture his testimony under "another example of the [rogue] Unit being involved in illegal and unlawful activities with the approval and knowledge of their management" and adds that "[a]ll these are contained in the file the Commission does not want to read".

Lebelo's affidavit follows a recent attempt by Moyane to challenge the Commission, which resulted in the Constitutional Court dismissing his case.

Moyane has said he will keep fighting and is set to press ahead with an urgent court application next week to be reinstated and interdict a successor from being appointed. He will also seek to prevent any of the remaining recommendations by the commission from being implemented.

Asked about the allegations, the secretariat of the commission told Fin24 that it had received the affidavit, but that it was not at liberty to discuss the commission's work with individual members of the media. 

* Update: This article previously stated that the affidavit had been submitted at the North Gauteng High Court. It has been submitted to the Nugent Commission.

* Update 2: This article was updated to include KPMG's withrdawal of the findings of its earlier 'rogue unit' report, and that in its interim report the Nugent Commission of Inquiry found no reasons to believe the unit had been unlawful.  

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