080310 The new offices of SARS at corner Rissik street and Albert street. Picture: Ziphozonke Lushaba

Johannesburg - More intrigue has emerged around the supposed existence of a “spy unit” in the South African Revenue Service (Sars), with a former Sunday Times journalist now claiming the newspaper was being used to push a sinister agenda against senior Sars employees.

Senior investigative reporter Pearlie Joubert said in a sworn affidavit her conscience finally led her to resign her post at the Sunday Times earlier this year, after she concluded the paper pursued a vindictive agenda against former Sars group executive Johann van Loggerenberg and deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay.

“I resigned from the Sunday Times because I was not willing to be party to practices at the Sunday Times which I verily believed to have been unethical and immoral,” Joubert swore.

Her statement, made at Cape Town police station on October 1, was prepared for submission to the Press Ombud, in a dispute between Sars and her former employers’ series of sensational stories alleging a rogue spy unit at the centre of the country’s revenue service.

Now Joubert, who worked as a senior investigator at the paper for two years, says “many of the articles” relating to the alleged unit “contained untruths”.

Joubert fingered her former editor, Phylicia Oppelt, for “isolating” her in the newsroom once she had raised her concerns about the newspaper’s Sars investigations.

“It is my humble belief that much of what had been reported in the Sunday Times was false and appears to have been an orchestrated effort by persons to advance untested allegations in the public arena.”

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg, among others, were accused by the newspaper of establishing a rogue spy unit.

Since the allegations hit the headlines, an advisory board headed by retired judge Frank Kroon found that the establishment of a secret unit within Sars in 2007, which covertly gathered intelligence, was unlawful.

However, Joubert takes issue with the fact that advocate Mastenbroek was on the board.

Oppelt resigned as the newspaper’s editor last month.

Acting editor of the Sunday Times, Sthembiso Msomi, denied that Oppelt’s resignation came in the wake of the Press Ombud hearing. “As far as I know, no. This is not the reason for her resignation,” Msomi said.

Joubert also alleges that Mastenbroek, who she describes as a friend, was the one who approached her with the story about the “rogue unit”.

“In my mind advocate Mastenbroek had already demonstrated to me in 2013 that he disliked Johan van Loggerenberg and Ivan Pillay, and was then already attempting to advance allegations against them in the media.”

She said she had raised concerns about the allegations to Oppelt, and in August last year the Sunday Times began to publish a series of articles concerning Pillay and Van Loggerenberg. “I was concerned about the veracity and accuracy of these articles and expressed my opinion to this effect at the Sunday Times with Oppelt and others.”

Sunday Times legal editor, Susan Smuts, said Joubert’s affidavit which implied that Mastenbroek was a primary source in the “rogue unit” stories “could not be further from the truth”.

“Mastenbroek is not one of us, he was not a source. What she said is untrue.

“We would not need him as a source. We had four reporters working on those stories independently.

“They had their own sources that they consulted.

“We do not know what Joubert’s motivation is for that affidavit.”

Oppelt could not be reached for comment.

Labour Bureau Editor

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