State spooks undermined Sars to favour tobacco smugglers, claims former top spy

Former head of the State Security Agency (SSA), Arthur Fraser, seen in Pretoria in 2008. Picture: Gallo Images

Arthur Fraser claims the taxman was the target of coordinated intelligence operations aimed at derailing investigations into tobacco smuggling.

The SA Revenue Service (Sars) was the target of coordinated intelligence operations aimed at derailing its investigation into tobacco smuggling and the local tobacco industry, the country’s former top spy Arthur Fraser has claimed.

Fraser’s astounding allegation in response to Dr Sydney Mufamadi’s High-Level Review Panel’s Report on the SSA is contained in paragraph 55 of his reply to Mufamadi, saying it was one of the issues Mufamadi should have reviewed.

Shortly before Fraser’s reply was issued, seemingly tangible proof surfaced that South Africa’s security agencies have had, on the face of it, solid evidence from someone at the heart of the matter since 2014 of criminal activity by state intelligence operatives and the tobacco industry – and have done nothing about it.

Curiously, since The Citizen’s questions to various agencies last week asking why, Fraser’s response to Mufamadi’s report appeared and former spy boss Gibson Njenje was fired from his position as special adviser to State Security Minister Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba.

Somewhere at the SSA, the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks), the Office of the Inspector General for Intelligence (OIGI), and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) apparently lie copies of a very special flash drive – and it seems no one wants anything to do with it because of its alleged association with the multibillion-rand tobacco industry.

In its refusal to comment, SSA spokesperson Lebohang Mafokosi stated the SSA was “not in a position to disclose information on its members or operations, as prescribed in the Intelligence Services Act, 2002 (Act 65 of 2002)”.

Advocate Jay Govender said the OIGI was “not in a position to elaborate on information received and to substantiate what was analysed and considered”.

“To do so would be tantamount to divulging investigation techniques and methods, which is not provided for in law.”

The NPA has denied knowledge of the flash drive while neither the Hawks nor Crime Intelligence (CI) has answered requests for information.

Aside from the NPA, there was no official denial of the flash drive’s existence.

An e-mail purportedly by ex-triple spy Belinda Walter to her SSA handler Chris Burger appeared to confirm the drive’s existence.

Govender, Gauteng Hawks Colonel Herbie Heap, former Lieutenant Colonel Hennie Niemann – who was the CI representative on the now-defunct Anti-Illicit Tobacco Task Team codenamed “Project Smoke” – and the NPA were all cc’ed or ccc’ed on the e-mail.

Aside from the responses recorded above, no one else has responded to questions sent by The Citizen.

By now, many are familiar with Sars’ High-Risk Investigation Unit (HRIU) collapsed in equal parts by fatally flawed leadership, players in the SSA, the Hawks and the tobacco industry, aided and abetted with “leaks” to journalists at the Sunday Times, who in turn ran the “rogue unit” narrative.

Walter appears to have worked for the SSA, British American Tobacco (BAT) and Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco, all at the same time at one stage, and for some or one at others.

Her emotional December 2014 e-mail to Burger – which The Citizen has had sight of – asked why he had abandoned her.

“Last night you tell me that the best thing for me to do is to pack my bags and relocate to another country. That is a punch in the face,” Walter wrote.

Walter sent her e-mail after Burger had apparently disavowed her as an agent for the SSA following her alleged leaking of information to media in March 2014.

She told Burger later she had given him an opportunity “to do the honourable thing” and return her flash drive or to provide her with a copy, which she claimed he refused to do.

“Being in bed with private companies is not going to end well for government departments. You know that, yet it persists. And I am not going to be the fall guy for that,” Walter threatened Burger.

So, what’s on the flash drive?

Apparently more damning evidence, downloaded by Walter’s former beau and former Sars group executive Johan Van Loggerenberg.

“In general, I deny the allegations made by Ms Walter against me,” Van Loggerenberg told The Citizen.

“The e-mail to which you refer confirms what I’ve been stating for several years insofar data existed on a memory stick emanating from Walter’s three old handsets and a data cloud she handed a copy of to me privately.

“It explains her earlier false allegations Sars supposedly ‘illegally intercepted’ her communications. It also confirms the data implicates members of the former Anti-Illicit Tobacco Task Team in serious offences, including actions which undermined Sars officials and their investigations.”

Van Loggerenberg stated Walter had brought her devices to him to help her retrieve her data after a private company had failed to do so.

Walter’s e-mail also referenced former SSA agent Ferdi Fryer and reminded Burger she had informed him that Fryer had (allegedly) been selling secrets, and claimed she had handed Burger a recording of a meeting held on July 20, 2014.

“It is at this meeting where Mr Fryer claimed to ‘represent’ persons who ‘wanted to replace the leadership of Sars and the then Minister of Finance’,” Van Loggerenberg alleged.

It seemed the estimated R30 billion a year SA makes off tobacco sales was still instrumental in keeping the information buried.

The fight for supremacy in the marketplace has continued as per the script described by former British American Tobacco security company Forensic Security Services investigator Francois van der Westhuizen in his 2016 affidavit in a high court application against BAT by cigarette manufacturer Carnilinx.

Van der Westhuizen noted he had been told the only way big tobacco would successfully suppress competitors “would be to employ a strategy of falsely suggesting that the competitors … are selling and marketing their cigarettes unlawfully”, and added a few lines later there had never been proof of this.

The titanic struggle in the tobacco industry between the various players – each side fighting for credibility and market share – is currently being played out in a headline-hungry media.

Using the media to drive an agenda is something that has happened previously.

Mufamadi noted in his report it was clear the SSA “was a law unto itself and directly served the political interests of the Executive”.

“It also undertook intelligence operations which were clearly unconstitutional and illegal,” Mufamadi noted.

“Information made available to the Panel indicated that these operations included, inter alia: Infiltrating and influencing the media in order, apparently, to counter bad publicity for the country, the then president and the SSA.”

It seems little will follow in terms of criminal prosecution, given everyone’s track record so far.

In his report, Mufamadi recommended the OIGI should remain without powers to subpoena witnesses and its findings “should not be enforceable but should serve as recommendations”.

Recommendations, Mufamadi had noted earlier in his report, had been ignored on two previous occasions by the SSA.

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