‘Sars spied on Malema and Mbalula’
Johannesburg - Members of a “rogue spy unit” in the SA Revenue Service posed as drivers for political figures like Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula in order to gain intelligence on them.
These were some of the submissions made in a report by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane into the conduct of the previous Sars group executive in charge of projects, evidence management and technical support, Johann van Loggerenberg, which The Star has seen.
The independent panel was set up by Sars to investigate allegations made against Van Loggerenberg by his former girlfriend, Belinda Walter, an agent.
Walter claimed Van Loggerenberg ran a covert unit within Sars, unlawfully revealed taxpayer information, was engaged in unlawful interception of conversations and had initiated their romantic relationship with the sole purpose of obtaining incriminating information about her clients in the tobacco industry.
Van Loggerenberg has denied the allegations, but at the time of the relationship, Walter was the chairwoman of the Fair Trade Independent Tobacco Association, whose members were the subject of pending investigations by Sars. Van Loggerenberg was directly involved in these investigations.
The panel highlighted the difficulty they had in doing their work because of the presence of former spies throughout Sars, who lied to them.
“Sars, as we later found out, has within its staff complement a curious presence of former spies and/or former intelligence officers. This was compounded by the fact that both Mr Van Loggerenberg and Ms Walter are also part of the intelligence community.
“The panel had to learn to separate fiction and fertile imagination from the facts and/or facts certain parties elected to remember,” the report said.
The report pointed out that they did find evidence of a unit “whose features were that of a covert one” which was not known to the majority of Sars employees. The advocates on the panel said they interviewed some of the members of this unit, who stated that they “had been involved in what seemed like covert operations. Some had been involved in the electronic tracing of vehicles and surveillance of individuals.”
The report said some of these members had been asked by their handlers to pose as drivers to political figures like EFF leader Malema and Sport and Recreation Minister Mbalula.
“They did not know how this task related to their tax functions, but performed them as they had been told never to ask questions. It is not clear to what end projects of this nature were performed. It is also not clear whether Sars’s management was even aware of these activities,” the report said.
Mbalula told The Star that he had known for some time that many different state institutions had unleashed spies on him and it was no surprise that a member of this alleged Sars rogue unit had acted as his driver.
“I have been aware that under different leaders of government, there were attempts to gather as much information on me as they could during my previous work as the leader of the ANC Youth League,” Mbalula said. “What worries me is that this unit was denied by Pravin Gordhan (Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister and former finance minister), but now it’s all coming out.”
Mbalula said he wanted to know from Sars what they were doing about this alleged rogue unit and how were they ensuring that this never happened again.
“This was an abuse of a state institution and it should not be allowed to happen to any other citizen, particularly because of their political beliefs. Such institutions must not be misused.”
The report said the unit had a budget and was initially led by an individual known as Skollie, who later left Sars.
“The evidence revealed a narrative rarely exposed to the public about our revenue service. It exposed minority activity of idiosyncratic and egocentric personalities, deception, intrigue and plain falsity.”
The report said all those they interviewed who knew of the unit indicated they did not have equipment to carry out electronic surveillance and/or interception of communication.
“One individual who was later absorbed back into Sars indicated that he had found no evidence that any of the information he gathered had found its way into existing Sars investigations. He was confused about what the real purpose of the covert intelligence operations was.”
Sars employment relations executive Luther Lebelo said they were looking at findings by the panel and engaging on the recommendations, including looking into their code of conduct and the need for a judicial commission of inquiry.
“Sars will make its decisions public at an appropriate time,” Lebelo said.