Nugent handed new evidence on SARS 'rogue unit' | Fin24
 
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Nugent handed new evidence on SARS 'rogue unit'

Aug 16 2018 15:25
Kyle Cowan

New evidence on the work of the SA Revenue Service's High Risk Investigations Unit, the so-called "rogue unit", has been forwarded to the Nugent Commission of Inquiry.

The commission, appointed by President Cyril Ramaphosa and headed by retired judge Robert Nugent, will continue with public hearings next week. It is tasked with looking at apparent lapses in governance at the tax agency.

Judge Nugent would not confirm if the commission would be looking into the allegations surrounding the unit, saying he did not wish to discuss the work of the commission with individual members of the media.

But the submission, made by a SARS official and former member of the HRIU, may draw Nugent’s attention to the storm surrounding the unit and how the revenue service's management handled the fallout.

News24 has uncovered details of work undertaken by the unit, which are likely to be raised before Nugent as evidence of the dismantling of the enforcement capability of SARS.

The unit was alleged to have bugged former president Jacob Zuma’s home and conducted unlawful surveillance, run a brothel and to have had hundreds of millions rands in a slush fund.

These allegations have been dismissed, and the Sunday Times, which published the reports, has apologised for publishing false information. The reports, however, were used as the pretext to disband the seven-member unit in October 2014, weeks after now suspended commissioner Tom Moyane was appointed.

Ignored

According to former members of the unit, the work it conducted has for years been ignored as it would have countered the "rogue unit narrative".

A summary document detailing the work of the HRIU, seen by News24, details its attempts to crack down on abalone poachers, drug lords as well as child abductors, financial crime and the illicit tobacco trade.

Details in the document include that the unit contributed to tax assessments and recovery of illicit tobacco, drugs and counterfeit clothing worth more than R4bn in its seven years.

The offset is an estimated loss of more than R2bn in unrecovered revenue due to investigations that were killed along with the unit.

According to a financial report by former SARS chief financial officer Robert Head, the unit cost the taxpayer R12m a year, on average.

Former SARS executive Johann van Loggerenberg, who left SARS in 2015 and managed the HRIU, confirmed the veracity of the document, and said that he was involved in compiling it. At least three other former members of the unit also gave input.

No taxpayer information

No taxpayer information is contained in the list, which details more than 80 projects the unit was involved in between March 2007 and October 2014 – its entire lifespan.

"Their mandate was always to focus on tax, customs and excise offences to assist SARS investigative units, anti-corruption efforts and other law enforcement agencies," the document reads.

"They largely conducted interviews of complainants, victims or witnesses and were required to ask around, use whatever was given to them and identify documentary or physical evidence or potential witnesses – or witnesses who may have knowledge of the location of such evidence or witnesses."

The document refutes notions that the unit was "covert", instead suggesting that it operated with a level of secrecy required to protect its investigators.

Of the list, Van Loggerenberg said: "This particular list was compiled in 2016 by a few former members of the unit in order to seek to place on record and demonstrate that the unit was lawfully established and functioned so with great success."

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