The finance minister has been told he’ll be receiving a ‘warning statement’ prior to being charged with an offence. The basis of the case, however, remains obscure.
Reports late on Tuesday revealed that the criminal investigation by the Hawks of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and his former associates at the SA Revenue Service (Sars) has now kicked into high gear.
The Daily Maverick reported that it was “reliably informed” that Gordhan, former Sars deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, group executive Johann van Loggerenberg, spokesperson Adrian Lackay and initial head of the investigative unit Andries van Rensburg had all been “asked to report to the Hawks at 10am on Thursday”.
Gordhan, Pillay, Van Loggerenberg, Lackay and Van Rensburg were reportedly sent letters informing them of the charges they will face.
The real basis of the case by the Hawks against Gordhan and his former team was brought into severe question earlier this year. Despite the police being asked to elaborate on why they were after the finance minister, they have consistently declined to offer any reasons.
The Hawks have known since at least 2014 about all the allegations of fraud, corruption and money laundering at Sars, but the State Security Agency (SSA) never had any concerns about the taxman’s High Risk Investigations Unit (the so-called rogue unit) as far back as 2010, and for all the years thereafter.
All the available evidence continues to suggest that the Sars unit was legally constituted and managed, which has raised concerns about why it has become a target for the Hawks. The crack squad of detectives took a special interest in the case again shortly after Gordhan’s reappointment as finance minister, evidenced by their infamous sending of “27 questions” to him. Gordhan has consistently denied doing anything wrong.
At the time, he said:
“I cannot believe that I’m being investigated and could possibly be charged for something I am innocent of. Throughout my 45 years of activism, I have worked for the advancement of the ANC, our constitution and our democratic government.”
The SSA is the body best placed to make an assessment of whether anyone has engaged in illegal surveillance, which is what Sars has been accused of since 2014.
Van Loggerenberg has already told The Citizen that he cooperated with the Hawks to the full extent possible to try to clear his name: “Following a host of defamatory and false allegations against me by a former romantic partner of mine [Pretoria lawyer and alleged spy Belinda Walter] and only after the demise of that relationship, my attorneys wrote to the Hawks, offering my full cooperation, my complete availability, and I denied having done anything wrong.”
He believes he and his colleagues are being targeted because they unearthed explosive evidence of criminal behaviour against powerful individuals.
“Following this, I personally visited a very senior Hawks official in early 2015, with a view to handing over an affidavit with substantiating evidence of what I believed to be prima facie evidence of corruption, money laundering, fraud and a range of other criminal activities,” Van Loggerenberg said, believing his unit’s work showed why people were trying to discredit him, Sars and the unit.
Van Loggerenberg’s relationship with Belinda Walter going sour contributed to numerous false reports about a “rogue unit” in the media.
This year, his lawyers wrote to the Hawks again, confirming his availability for questioning.
“I have never received any meaningful reply,” said Van Loggerenberg, suggesting that the aim of the investigation was not to determine evidence of his guilt or innocence, but merely to cast doubt on the integrity of Sars at the time he and his colleagues were in charge.
Yolisa Pikie, the former adviser to Sars deputy head Pillay – who is also in the Hawks’ sights – wrote on a Facebook page devoted to supporting Gordhan that “all [Sars’] programmes and personnel were subjected to an investigation by the State Security Agency in 2010, which found nothing untoward”.
Notes in the public domain from meetings between the SSA and Sars also prove this is true.
The case that’s NOT being investigated
In reality, the Sars unit uncovered “multiple instances” of officials in state intelligence, the Hawks and police crime intelligence, along with a private security company and Big Tobacco, being involved in fraud, corruption, illegal interceptions, illegal spying in Zimbabwe and defrauding Sars.
The taxman’s investigations stopped in September 2014, at the height of the Sunday Times’s systemic attack on the Sars unit. The newspaper accused the unit, among other things, of running a brothel and spying on President Jacob Zuma. It could not substantiate the allegations and has since withdrawn most of them.
As for what the unit was really doing, far be it from engaging in anything criminal, documents seen by The Citizen show that its projects in fact investigated fraud, corruption, illegal interceptions and defrauding of Sars that involved officials at the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), crime intelligence, and an intelligence contract agent, allegedly a close friend of Zuma’s.
All of this should raise questions about why the Hawks – and crime intelligence, now – are investigating individuals who were themselves investigating the police and the Hawks.
Then there is “Project Robin”, in which convicted drug dealer Glenn Agliotti claimed in transcripts of a recorded conversation that he had a “mandate” to set up a major cigarette smuggling ring.
In the transcript, Agliotti allegedly boasted that: “The mandate now from the government comes from Zuma’s office. It’s already set up. Indemnity to whoever I tell them. Three-year project. Smuggle as much as you want. Khule out of Zuma’s office.”
Agliotti has denied having said anything of the sort, as has Sars spokesperson Sandile Memela.
Memela told The Citizen: “I deem it necessary to express our concern about the wild and unsubstantiated statements … For example, [that] a government-sponsored tobacco smuggling ring exists; or [that] certain investigations ‘were stopped’ or ‘led to the resignations of much of the top structure at Sars’.”
He added: “Unsubstantiated statements such as these do not warrant comment in any event.”
The substantiation about Project Robin that Memela is apparently unaware of can be found in former Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay’s submission to the respective standing committees on finance and intelligence. He explained that the alleged idea of those they were investigating was to set up a “front company” with a “view to trade in the YES-brand together with current and former intelligence officials and informants, to be partly funded by a convicted tax evader and tobacco trader under the guise of what they termed Project Robin. Their intention was to use their access to [state intelligence] to fund part of the activities.”
Lackay is being sued by Moyane for R12 million for defamation.