South African Revenue Service (Sars) officials caught in a political “crossfire” between the tax collection agency’s head Tom Moyane and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan will reportedly be questioned on Monday during an internal grievance process probing an alleged “hostage drama” that took place at Sars’ headquarters on October 18.
On Monday Daily Maverick reported that the investigation, part of a three-stage process, will look into the hostage situation that involved four Hawks officials and Moyane’s bodyguard, Thabo Titi, who allegedly held the deputy director of law at Sars, Vlok Symington, against his own will.
Among the unit’s members were Brigadier Nyameka Xaba, the head of the Hawks’ Crimes Against the State (CATS) unit, who was the lead investigator in the case against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and two former Sars officials on charges of fraud.
Symington has since lodged an internal grievance process into the matter with the Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).
The news site reported that Symington’s sworn statement to the police watchdog organisation revealed that one of the Hawks members involved in the hostage drama had confessed to him that the Hawks had been in possession of a crucial memorandum that he authored, which exonerated Gordhan of any guilt and withheld it from the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
The legal advice was approved by attorney David Maphakela of Sars’ legal firm, Mashiane, Moodley and Monama Attorneys, giving the green light to the payment of the penalty for then deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay’s early retirement and reemployment as a consultant on a contract basis.
Currently, there are three processes under way in the aftermath of the hostage: an internal Sars grievance process (lodged by Symington against Titi and other Sars officials who had allegedly held him against his will); an Ipid investigation into four Hawks officials, including Xaba, on charges of kidnapping as well as the Hawks’ own investigation into their members.
According to the Daily Maverick, under normal circumstances, the Hawks would depend on the Ipid investigation, but it appears as if the unit is attempting to interfere with this process, particularly following the return of Robert McBride at the helm of the organisation recently.
The news site has reliably learnt that last week, Symington was summoned to Moyane’s boardroom at Sars to meet with KZN Hawks head Major-General Jabulani Zikhali. He apparently wanted Symington to resubmit his sworn statement he made to the Ipid about the Hawks member’s confession “merely as a report”.
He reportedly refused to do so.
Daily Maverick has also learnt that Sars had appointed Bloemfontein-based legal firm Phatshoane Henney Attorneys – which has been linked to 436 entities named in the “Panama Papers” leaked by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists in May this year – to act as impartial and objective external investigator, but this was strongly objected to by Symington.
He reportedly told Sars officials arranging the internal grievance process that he was in fact investigating Phatshoane Henney for its involvement in the Panama Papers leak. Sars was then forced to replace the firm with another, Mothle Jooma Sabdia.
NPA head Advocate Shaun Abrahams withdrew the fraud charges against Gordhan and his previous co-accused on October 31 with immediate effect after citing the 2009 memorandum from Symington.
The charges were widely criticised by legal analysts, who said the case had no legal basis and would not succeed in court.
Gordhan had consistently denied any wrongdoing and said the charges were politically motivated.