SARS denies ‘bullying, abuse of powers’

sars 2Authors: Natasha Marrian and Carol Paton (BDlive)

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) has denied threatening former commissioner Pravin Gordhan with sequestration to recover money lost to the fiscus after his extension of former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay’s contract.

Mr Pillay has since resigned.

The existence of the letter was reported in the City Press on Sunday. The newspaper claimed to have copies of correspondence between legal counsel for SARS, commissioner Tom Moyane and Mr Gordhan.

Mr Gordhan, who is now the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, denied knowledge of the letters.

He described their leak, however, as “bullying” and “an abuse of power” by SARS officials.

SARS spokesman Luther Lebelo said the allegations were “a distortion of facts”. Mr Lebelo said neither SARS nor Mr Moyane issued such correspondence.

SARS is mired in a scandal surrounding the establishment of a covert unit that was closed down late last year over issues of legality. It wants the agency to move on from the scandal.

“With this and the previous statement in relation to the resignations of Messrs Pillay and Peter Richer, it is in the interest of all the parties concerned to now move forward,” Mr Lebelo said.

He confirmed this week that SARS had not abandoned working with the National Intelligence Agency on the “illicit economy”.

“SARS can confirm that engagements are continuing with the relevant institutions to establish such a capability within the state security cluster,” he said.

Questions remain over the unit’s legality, particularly after an advisory board headed by retired Judge Frank Kroon confirmed the findings of an earlier panel headed by Adv Muzi Sikhakhane, that the unit was unlawful. Mr Pillay and Mr Gordhan have maintained it was above board. Judge Kroon recommended that the matter be referred to the South African Police Service for further investigation.

On announcing the resignation of Mr Pillay and Mr Richer, who was a senior executive in charge of strategic planning and risk, SARS said all investigations that it had initiated would be withdrawn.

But Mr Lebelo this week confirmed the agency was still awaiting the outcome of an investigation by KPMG, also commissioned by SARS. He said this report would be made available to the Kroon advisory board for “consideration”.

On the allegations that the covert unit spied on President Jacob Zuma and ran a brothel, Mr Lebelo said these allegations were included in the terms of reference of the KPMG investigation as well as another one by independent counsel, whose name had yet to be announced.

“SARS will refer any findings of illegal activities and or criminality emanating from the two reports to the relevant authorities,” he said.

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