Africa Cash N Carry in bitter feud with SARS auditors and former CEO
DURBAN – One of Africa’s largest independent family-run wholesalers; Africa Cash N Carry (ACC) is embroiled in a bitter feud with South African Revenue Service (SARS) auditors and the company’s former chief executive, who is accused of swindling the company out of tens of millions of rand before starting his own business competing in the same space.
Damning documents obtained by Independent Media, detailing minutes of a meeting that took place on May 10, 2019, between SARS senior manager of auditing, Dirk du Plooy and Sanet Tredoux, a SARS investigative auditor, show that both individuals suggested that the Hathurani family, which owns ACC should lose control of their family business because “it will remain a liability to the state”.
The minutes between the two read: “SARS is of the view that as long as ACC is under the control of the Hathuranis it will remain a liability to the State. It is a good business but it will be better if it is sold.”
A high ranking official within SARS who blew the whistle said this was questionable conduct between the two auditors at SARS.
“The objective of SARS is to collect tax, not to decide who the business should belong to. The question then is, who are they reserving the business for? It is none of SARS business to choose who should run which businesses or companies. It has nothing to do with the mandate of SARS,” said the official.
In the minutes between Du Plooy and Tredoux, it is also revealed that there are 30 people permanently working on the ACC matter.
“They say they assigned over 30 auditors to these people. Are they the only project in the country? The way this is being done is victimisation. SARS is a great organisation but it’s made to look bad because of certain individuals,” said the whistleblower.
Other documents seen by Independent Media, addressed to SARS commissioner Edward Keiswetter, by ACC details how the company’s woes with SARS started back in 2001 and has led to a tax bill of R1 billion and on the verge of being liquidated.
According to documents, under the leadership of the company’s former CEO Cassim Aysen, who also doubled as the chief finance officer (CFO) of the company, SARS conducted a search seizure around 2008 which resulted in an assessment of over R1 billion.
The company disputed the debt in court and lost the case and has since been unable to pay the total debt of R1 billion as it claims in court papers that its assets are less than its total debt.
Correspondence alleges that in the interim, Aysen, whilst running the affairs of ACC, allegedly, “swindled large sums of money discreetly into his own family's accounts” (R53 million) without the knowledge of shareholders and then went on to open his own company called Continental Cash N Carry (CCC).
A former executive from ACC who approached Independent Media with supporting documentation and spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, alleges that Aysen, in an attempt to evade prosecution and audits, is alleged to have shared information about ACC to SARS – yet when the debt arose, he was in charge of all operations and finances as he was both the CEO and CFO of ACC.
Aysen is represented by a lawyer called Ashraf Parak on the SARS matter.
When contacted for comment, Parak said he would not be drawn in on the matter as he had not received instruction from Aysen to comment. “I have not received instruction from my client to comment. Also, SARS issues are very sensitive so I will not comment,” he said.
Questions were also directly sent to Aysen but were unanswered.
When contacted for comment, Edrees Haruthani, the former shareholder of ACC said he would not comment as the matter between ACC and SARS was confidential. “I have no comment,” he said.
However, According to the ACC whistleblower: “ACC has been under curatorship for approximately six years. In the interim the Polokwane branch had been liquidated, with assets in access of R80 million and over 200 workers suffered job losses. The liquidation amount was a mere R10 million yet ACC Crown Mines had offered R35 million which could have been paid to SARS. This coordinated attack using connected people to destroy the business, instead of helping increase the profitability of the business and save jobs put huge pressure on the management of the business - hence the company’s Polokwane operations could not be saved.”
The SARS official added: “The taxpayers back is against the wall, to an extent that assets that don’t even belong to this business have been offered to finalise this case, yet Mr Du Plooy appears to frustrate the process. It is apparent that there are sinister motives evident to grab the business from the Hathurani family using SARS. In a period of three years, the company has been audited 35 times and after each audit, another follows – this borders around abuse of the process and power by certain SARS people.”
Commenting on behalf of SARS and its employees, SARS head of communication and media Siphithi Sibeko said the organisation did not permit its officials to talk directly with the media after he was informed that questions had been sent to Du Plooy, including the commissioner Edward Keiswetter.
“The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is the creature of statute, and acts at all times within the Act. In this regard, SARS is bound by Chapter 6 of the Tax Administration Act, 2011, dealing with confidentiality of information, and more specifically section 69 of the Act, which provides for the secrecy of taxpayer information. This includes investigations into taxpayers or traders. According to the Act, SARS is not in a position to divulge specific information and details on the affairs of taxpayers,” he said.