Former City Press editor Ferial Haffajee
Johannesburg - AUTHOR Jacques Pauw appears to have unduly influenced City Press editors against publishing rogue unit stories for the benefit of former South African Revenue Service (Sars) executive, according to email exchanges circulating on social media last week.

In the emails, Pauw approached then City Press editor Ferial Haffajee and the paper’s editor at large Mondli Makhanya in 2014 on behalf of former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay.

He then convinced them to hold off on a story due for publication the following day until the release of the Sikhakhane report.

Pauw is the author a book about former President Jacob Zuma and state capture, titled The President’s Keepers, and had long left journalism to run a lodge in the Western Cape at the time of his successful intervention.

He is a former Media24 investigative reporter who wrote about the rogue unit and largely dismissed it as the work of State Security agents who were out to nail Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and former Sars executives Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg, Pete Richer and Lackay.

In the email exchanges between him, Haffajee and City Press’ assistant editor Nicky Gules in November 2014, Pauw urged the paper to be “careful” of “these kinds” of stories “floating around” and being “dished up” to journalists.

“Some - like the Sunday Times - publish them. I believe all are part of an orchestrated campaign against Sars and that much of it emanates from the Special Operations Unit (SOU) at the SSA. The Sunday Times published a similar story two weeks ago and their source was [Mike] Peega - former Sars investigator that was fired for rhino poaching. Guess who he works for now? The SOU at SSA. I have an affidavit from him in which he confirms his SSA links,” wrote Pauw.

He added that advocate Muzi Sikhakhane had been commissioned to do an inquiry into the rogue unit.

“We will exclusively get the results of his enquiry with all the affidavits from everyone within the next few days (it is apparently very explosive), but we cannot let ourselves been (sic) used for a campaign against Sars. I will gladly do the Sikhakhane story for City Press or pass onto you for someone else to do,” Pauw added.

Haffajee eventually held off on the story, written by journalist Caiphus Kgosana. On the same day, Lackay wrote to Pauw thanking him for his intervention.

He told Pauw he had been to the City Press newsroom where he met with Kgosana, assistant editor Rapule Tabane and greeted Haffajee and Makhanya.

“They agreed to hold off on publishing until Adv Sikhakhane’s report is made public. In turn, we gave them full access to the file of our submission to the panel including Johann’s affidavit. I also encouraged them to work with you on the matter which you have written extensively and to try and get the documents to you,” Lackay said.

Pauw on Saturday denied unduly influencing Haffajee and her editorial team.

“It was their choice to publish or not. I suggest you ask Haffajee about the sequence of events. Simply put, my concern at the time, which I clearly expressed and which the email is a part of, related to the media being unwittingly used to further the agendas of various people involved in the capturing of Sars - similarly as what was happening at the Hawks, the NPA and state intelligence,” he said.

Pauw said there was hope at the time that Sikhakhane would expose the capture of Sars but, “unfortunately, he failed dismally to do so”.

Asked about his relationship with Lackay, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg, Pauw said he had a “friendly and cordial” relationship with Lackay because he had been a well-known journalist, media personality and government spokesperson for years.

He said he had met Pillay “once briefly”, but had “never really spoken to him”. Pauw described Van Loggerenberg as a “Facebook friend although we have met and spoken when he was at Sars”.

He denied manipulating Haffajee or intervening on Lackay’s behalf.

“I was in no position to ‘manipulate’ the editors. At the time, several fake ‘intelligence dossiers’ did the rounds that contained misinformation about the ‘rogue unit’ at Sars,” he insisted.

Yesterday, Haffajee denied having suppressed any rogue-unit story, saying she just did not run them as the “disinformation merchants” wanted.

She maintained that such stories were rejected because City Press was a newsroom that could make a distinction between being fed “bullshit” and doing the work of journalism.

“It’s better to be right, solid and fair in our journalism rather than to chase a series which had the high stench of improbability from the beginning, no matter what the public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, says today,” Haffajee said.

“Not running that series, as the disinformation merchants who wanted to destabilise Sars wanted us to, using the might of the Sunday title, is probably among the better decisions I took as an editor.”

She denied that Pauw unduly influenced her.

“Did Jacques Pauw tell me what to do? No, never. What the emails show is that he told us he was unhappy with other coverage of Sars by City Press where we had begun to look at how Johan van Loggerenberg, Sars head of the high-level investigations unit, had apparently fallen into a honey trap set by a double agent who was also working for the illicit tobacco merchants and for Big Tobacco.

“If you read his book, you will see that Pauw was, in fact, critical of some of City Press’s stories about Sars. Did then Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay suppress stories at City Press? No, never,” she said.

Lackay failed to respond to calls and a WhatsApp message.