Pretoria – Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has been summonsed to appear in court next month on charges stemming from the investigation into the so-called rogue intelligence unit in Sars, the National Prosecuting Authority announced on Tuesday.
Gordhan must appear in court on November 2, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams said at a media briefing in Pretoria.
Former Sars director Ivan Pillay and commissioner Oupa Magashula will also face the music for their role in the irregular approval of Pillay's early retirement and extended employment within Sars.
Abrahams said the approval of the early retirement cost Sars R1.14m.
The trio will be charged with fraud, contravention of the Public Finance Management Act and for the irregular extension of Pillay's employment respectively.
All three men have been served with summons and are to appear in the Pretoria Regional Court on November 2.
Abrahams told a media briefing nothing could be further from the truth than Gordhan's recent statement that the probe into the unit set up within the revenue service more than a decade ago was “political mischief”.
Abrahams on Tuesday denied there had been any political interference in a decision to prosecute Gordhan for fraud over severance packages at the South African Revenue Service.
Abrahams said he had informed Justice Minister Michael Masutha of the decision to prosecute before he announced it to the public.
The rand dropped more than three percent against the dollar soon after Abrahams made the announcement.
“As recently as last week, Gordhan while in the USA during an interview with Bloomberg television called the investigation ‘a bit of political mischief which every country will have’,” Abrahams said. “There can be nothing further from the truth.”
Abrahams said the NPA had taken representations from the accused, the complainant and any other person or party considered to be relevant.
He said the unit had been created to penetrate the illicit market, and has been identified as operating as far back as 1999.
In 2007, he said former Sars official Ivan PIllay “directed a memorandum to minister of finance Trevor Manuel who was the minister at the time” so secure funding from the National Intelligence Agency for the unit.
The memorandum sought the approval of funds to supply Sars with the capability of dealing with the illicit economy, including the importation of counterfeit goods, drugs and the illegal harvesting of abalone.
Abrahams said the memorandum acknowledged that Sars did not have a mandate to carry out such activities and the costs were to be covered by the NIA.
It further asked Manuel to increase the budget of the National Intelligence Agency. “There is no evidence that National Intelligence Agency budget was increased to fund this capability.”
Gordhan apparently signed this memorandum in February 2007 and it was approved at the end of February.
Abrahams said members of the unit were recruited to Sars, but that investigations revealed that the unit had been in operation “long before Manuel’s authorisation had been obtained”.
He said members were recruited outside of normal Sars recruiting processes: “They didn’t operate from Sars offices, they operated from home, from boots of cars, from coffee shops”.
They also had false identities, and conducted clandestine and covert operations such as “Project Sunday Evenings”. This, Abrahams said, involved the procurement of equipment for surveillance purposes.
Abrahams said Gordhan has denied that the unit acted illegally and has insisted that “any members who conducted activities outside of the law did so without his knowledge”.
Gordhan confirmed on Tuesday that prosecutors had delivered a summons to his house.
"It looks like we are in a bit of excitement going forward," Gordhan said at a business seminar in Johannesburg.
African News Agency and Reuters