Retired Judge Frank Kroon yesterday removed the last vestiges of doubt over the legitimacy of the South African Revenue Services (Sars) High Risk Intervention Unit – the demise of which saw the dismantling of Sars’ investigative capability.
Kroon was testifying at the Sars Inquiry, headed by former Justice Robert Nugent, and said that in March 2016, Kroon believed his newly-appointed boss Pravin Gordhan was entitled to an apology over the wording of a 2015 press release by the South African Revenue Services Advisory Board (SAB) around the perceived illegitimacy of the “rogue unit” at Sars.
“And I tendered it,” said Kroon.
“Subsequent to the press release, there had been views in the media that the finding that the establishment of the unit was unlawful was to be questioned.
“We revisited it and discussed it, and it was concluded we should not have made that statement. We should have restricted our comments to the members of the unit having engaged in unlawful activities. We did not have the full information,” Kroon admitted.
Paradoxically, while the SAB concluded the unit’s formation was unlawful, its decision was based on the 2014 Sikhakhane Report – and the now discredited KPMG report – which could not find any evidence of unlawful activity, and was issued despite not speaking to any of the implicated Sars staff.
These included former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, former group executive for tax and customs enforcement investigations Johann van Loggerenberg, group executive for strategic planning and risk Pete Richer, special advisor to Pillay, Yolisa Pikie, and former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay.
It was advocate Rudolf Mastenbroek who made the first draft, said Kroon, and circulated it to the other members of the SAB.
“It was just accepted,” Kroon said.
Shortly after the SAB updated the public on its findings, it met with Bain Consulting, now also deemed to be a major player in Sars’ downfall with its R164 million “redesign” of Sars’ operating model.
In 2016, the press ombud found it was “not a gratuitous comment” for former Sunday Times journalist Pearlie Joubert to “point out that Mastenbroek was [Sunday Times editor Phylicia] Oppelt’s ex-husband at the time when the latter was the editor.
Times Media, now Tiso Blackstar, rejected Joubert’s claims Mastenbroek had influenced its reporting on Sars.
Minister of Public Enterprises Gordhan said through his spokesperson Lackay he would not comment at this stage.
“The commission must be allowed to conclude the important work it is mandated to do and make findings and recommendations,” he said.