Durban - A news magazine has reported on the history of the SARS rogue unit quoting confidential papers arising from aborted disciplinary hearings against former employees Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg.
Noseweek said the 2015 internal disciplinary charges were never tested as both former SARS Deputy Commissioner Pillay and investigations head Van Loggerenberg resigned rather than answer the battery of accusations against them.
"The confidential disciplinary papers recount how the rogue-unit saga began, with a memo from Pillay, dated 2 February 2007, to then-Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel which sought and obtained permission to establish a special investigations unit within the National Intelligence Agency.
But it seems there was deception from the start."
The magazine said at SARS a decision initiated or supported by Pillay was said to have “misrepresented and misled” Trevor Manuel, resulting in the National Research Group being established not within the NIA, as directed, but within SARS.
"There it fell under the leadership of Andries Janse “Skollie” van Rensburg, who “misdirected” ministerial-approved funds to equip the new unit with cell-phone jammers, eavesdropping equipment, vehicle trackers, night-vision binoculars and covert recording equipment implanted on car keys and pens."
The news magazine said it was alleged that it was the SARS rogue unit that spied on the now defunct Scorpions and the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority in Silverton after prosecutor Gerrie Nel suspected that colleagues were leaking information about the prosecution of Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi to politicians.
"The disciplinary papers describe how, when Pillay subsequently decided to fire Skollie van Rensburg, he threatened to expose the rogue unit’s existence. So Pillay agreed that Van Rensburg should receive R3 million in severance pay “in order to ensure his silence”. By agreeing to this payment, Pillay had made himself “party to corruption by paying a bribe,” claimed SARS."
According to the report, more danger of media exposure came from Michael Peega, a National Research Group (NRG) operative who was fired for his involvement in a rhino poaching incident. "Peega promptly authored an “intelligence dossier” revealing the existence of the secret unit – and claiming it was “rogue”."
It said the NRG was disbanded and its members redeployed.
"In its place emerged the ultra-secret High-Risk Investigation Unit (HRIU) led by Johann van Loggerenberg under Pillay’s supervision and control.
Objective of these units, declared SARS in the disciplinary papers, was to subject targets “suspected of significant tax violations to surveillance, investigation and interrogations using covert and illicit methods”.
Van Loggerenberg’s high-risk unit was set up in such secrecy that even former members of the NRG believed these activities had been completely disbanded."
It also said the new unit was composed of former undercover and military intelligence agents who were required to work from home, expected to establish “front” businesses and were given assignments on a “need-to-know” basis. "They were instructed to sever any connections with former NRG members – in particular Skollie van Rensburg – were given false SARS identity documents and provided with facilities and equipment to monitor the movements of individuals, track vehicles, bug conversations, tap telephones and cell phones, intercept and block communications and utilise and exploit sources and informants."
The report listed equipment obtained for the unit and stated that recruitment of High Risk’s personnel failed to follow SARS recruitment policy, did not require recruits to take the SARS Oath of Secrecy and “elevated SARS staff costs by over R106m – committing a wasteful and fruitless expenditure”.
It said when former SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane arrived in 2014 he asked Pillay about any covert units that might exist.
"According to the disciplinary papers, Pillay disavowed their existence in full knowledge that this response was untrue."
The Noseweek report comes barely a month after Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and Ban Rensburg appeared in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court charged with corruption and having intercepted National Prosecuting Authority communications in an operation called Project Sunday Evenings, which took place around 2007.