Even if the South African Revenue Service (Sars) is correct in accusing author and journalist Jacques Pauw of unlawfully disclosing President Jacob Zuma’s tax information, he could still have been within his rights to do so in the public interest.
This is according to legal experts who believe Pauw would not have made the revelations in his book – The President’s Keepers – without extensive legal consultation that would have weighed the public interest and freedom of expression against the possibility that he may be breaking the law.
While a criminal investigation is under way by the Hawks, Sars commissioner Tom Moyane this week approached the Western Cape High Court to seek an order declaring that Pauw violated the Tax Administration Act of 2011.
Andrew Boerner, senior associate at Jurgens Bekker Attorneys, said while Pauw may have arguably broken the law, the constitution might favour him should he be found to have acted in the interest of the public.
“Although he is in violation of a certain section of a Sars Act, there is still an overwhelming right to freedom of expression that will trump that,” he said, adding that journalists have a certain moral duty to publish information.
Sars spokesperson Sandile Memela said Pauw’s informers at Sars are in contravention of section 69 of the Act, which forbids current and former Sars employees from disclosing or debating an individual taxpayer’s tax affairs.
Pauw is also accused of contravening section 67 of the Act, which forbids a person who has received another individual’s tax information from sharing it, even if they are a third party.
Legal analyst Cliff Alexander concurred, saying Moyane’s action was pure politicking.
“It’s in the public interest. And everybody knows what government officials earn. It is declared and not a secret.” Memela said Moyane was considering pursuing a civil case of crimen injuria in which he’d accuse Pauw of bringing his image into disrepute by alleging he had allowed certain individuals to avoid paying taxes.