Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/ Independent Media

Johannesburg – An investigation into the alleged illegal activities at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) is not targeted at Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s elite investigative unit, the Hawks, said on Monday.

“We would like to set the record straight, put the matter into perspective and state our stance into the entire debacle. We can confirm that as the Hawks we are investigating a case concerning the alleged illegal operations by a so-called ‘rogue unit’ within the South African Revenue Services, not Mr (Pravin) Gordhan per se,” the unit said.

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“Mr Gordhan was the commissioner at Sars at the time when the covert unit was allegedly established. As part of our thorough investigations into the operations of the said unit, we needed some clarity and Mr Gordhan, who was the man at the helm of Sars at that time, was the suitable man to talk to, hence we sent him a set of questions for him to answer.”

Gordhan was sent a set of questions by the Hawks a few days before he delivered the 2016 Budget in Parliament on Wednesday, a move he said was aimed at distracting him.

Gordhan reportedly said he had kept quite about the matter until after delivering the budget speech, in the interest of the country and the economy.

He told City Press newspaper that it was unheard of since the advent of democracy for a state entity to tackle a sitting minister.

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The investigation pitted Sars commissioner Tom Moyane against Gordhan.

The probe into the alleged rogue unit followed a KPMG report, commissioned by Moyane, that showed there was such a unit within Sars. The unit, reportedly established in 2007, allegedly used covert methods and illegal spying to gather information, according to the report. It reportedly established a brothel in Durban as a cover for officials working from home, spied on people, including taxi hitmen, druglords, cigarette and abalone smugglers, Sars officials and politicians. Some Sars officials reportedly infiltrated the ANC as bodyguards.

The rift between Moyane and Gordhan was more visible last week when Moyane was absent at post budget briefings usually attended by the finance minister, his deputy, officials from the Treasury and the Sars commissioner. When asked about Moyane’s absence, Gordhan said there were issues at Sars that needed to be resolved and would be done so within a couple of weeks.

Moyane further irked Gordhan by proceeding with restructuring plan at Sars, even though Gordhan instructed that it be halted soon after he was appointed finance minister.

Moyane was appointed by President Jacob Zuma to replace Oupa Magashula in 2014. The revenue collecting organisation saw a number of resignations by executives in 2014 and 2015 following the probe into the unit.