South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Tom Moyane has written to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan explaining his approval of a new unit which appears to mirror the alleged “rogue unit” for which Gordhan is under investigation.
The letter to Gordhan, sent by Moyane on Tuesday, said the new unit was tasked with “tax matters” and would investigate SARS staffers who were involved in criminal activities.
Gordhan and former SARS officials are under investigation by the Hawks over the establishment of an alleged “rogue unit” at the tax agency during his tenure as commissioner.
He has maintained that the establishment of the unit was lawful and was aimed at targeting the illicit economy.
The new unit approved by Moyane on September 15 bares a striking resemblance to the alleged “rogue unit”.
The National Treasury said on Tuesday it was made aware of the unit through the media.
It said it would seek “clarification” on it.
In his letter to Gordhan, Moyane said the South African Police Service had asked SARS to aid its investigations on tax matters and where SARS officials were involved in criminal activities.
Moyane wrote that the unit would work with the police, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks to “look at the involvement of SARS officials in criminal activities”.
“The SARS officials’ mandate is only in as far as it relates to SARS employees involved in alleged criminal activities and tax matters,” he said in the letter. He said the team operated in the SARS office and were targeting “criminal syndicates in SARS”.
An internal SARS memorandum dated September 1 provides more detail of its work, indicating that it mirrored the “rogue unit”.
The memo, compiled by acting senior manager Yegan Mundie to SARS chief officer for enforcement Hlengani Mathebula, indicates that the new unit would require two vehicles, a safe house and a “secret cost centre” from which it should be funded to protect its members.
Ironically, these are among the allegations that led to the former unit members being described as “rogue”.
The new unit is probing corruption allegations against former SARS bosses, as well as some current staffers over the illicit tobacco industry.
An earlier memo between the pair, dated August 10 2016, detailed a complaint of corruption within the SARS Tactical Customs Investigation Unit.
The document details investigations by the alleged rogue unit into “legitimate” tobacco companies and individuals who purportedly gave British American Tobacco (BAT) an unfair advantage over its competitors.
The memorandum concludes that the audits or inspections of competitors of BAT and of Mark Lifman, reportedly an underworld boss, were “done unfairly and with malicious intent”.
Mundie recommends that criminal cases should be opened and a new team of auditors “re-audit” the competitors of BAT as well as Lifman.
Mathebula approved the recommendation.
However, the memorandum is contrary to previous reports on SARS’s work in the illicit tobacco industry, which until 2013 cost the fiscus about R3bn.
City Press reported last year that senior leaders were suspended partly due to their clampdown on tax compliance in the industry, including a clampdown on BAT.