Pretoria -

A syndicate accused of defrauding the SA Revenue Service (Sars) of more than R11 million went on trial in the High Court in Pretoria on Monday.

The 18 alleged syndicate members, including three former Sars employees, face more than 2200 charges of racketeering, money laundering, and fraud.

The State alleges former Sars employee Sydney Moyo, 44, of Soshanguve, had in the late 1990s devised a scheme to generate undue income tax refunds.

He allegedly recruited his wife Jane, who also worked for Sars, colleague Richard Bopape and other family members and friends. Moyo worked as a messenger and petty cash administrator at Sars.

In 1995 he was transferred to the pay-as-you-earn department at his own request, where he had full access to the taxman's IRP5

books, systems and procedures.

The State alleges all of the accused, except Bopape, approached unemployed people in their communities and obtained a copy of their identity documents. In most cases, the accused allegedly told people they could find them jobs, but needed a copy of their identity documents. They then allegedly used their details to secretly register the unemployed people for income tax purposes, under the false pretence that they were earning salaries.

False tax returns and IRP5 certificates were then generated indicating that too much income tax had been deducted from each “taxpayer”. When a refund was authorised, a cheque was posted to post boxes leased or controlled by members of the syndicate. In order to retrieve the cheques, the syndicate allegedly falsified the signature of the “taxpayer”. A syndicate member then collected the cheque by claiming to be an “authorised recipient” acting on behalf of the “taxpayer”.

One of the accused, Lucky Richard Mthembu, 33, was allegedly found in possession of computer hardware containing IRP5 templates.

The scheme allegedly ran for over six years before Sars became suspicious that so many people used the same post office box numbers.

The State on Monday began reading out the charges to the accused, which took a considerable amount of time as each charge had to be translated into three different languages.

Judge Mahomed Ismail turned down an application for transcripts of the trial record to be made available on a daily basis, in case some of the defence lawyers were not present in court, or had to withdraw from the trial.

The judge said his ruling should serve as a safeguard against lawyers being absent from court.

“I don't believe in rewarding bad students,” he said.

The trial continues. - Sapa