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SARS confirms probe into manhandling as Hawks hunt for evidence

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The South African Revenue Services (SARS) says that a full investigation would be conducted into the reported manhandling of an official by the Hawks as they allegedly tried to obtain evidence to use against Finance Minister Pravhin Gordhan.

“SARS has noted the media reports and circulated video material to the extent that the matter relates to members of the Hawks. The enquiries must be directed to the relevant law enforcement agency,” SARS said in a statement.

“Where SARS employees are concerned a full investigation will be conducted and a public statement issued.”

Earlier, Gordhan said that if true, the reported manhandling of a SARS official by the Hawks as they tried to obtain evidence to use against him in court, was totally unacceptable.

“If it is true, it is totally unacceptable behaviour,” Gordhan told a joint meeting of Parliament’s select and standing committees on finance and appropriations.

The Minister was asked by Democratic Alliance (DA) finance spokesman David Maynier about reports that Vlok Symington, the group executive of SARS’ legal and policy division, was detained by members of the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (Hawks) in an attempt to retrieve a document.

It was reported that the bodyguard of SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane was also involved in the incident and that it had left a panicked Symington with bruises to his arms and head.

At issue was a copy of an email from a SARS lawyer, informing Moyane that for ethical reasons he would not question Symington to obtain information for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

The chairman of the finance committee, Yunus Carrim, tried to stop Gordhan from answering Maynier’s question but the Minister insisted, saying: “It is an open democratic forum.”

Gordhan went on to say he would confront Moyane, with whom he has an openly hostile relationship.

“I heard whispers about it. I will ask Mr Moyane for an explanation as soon as I get a chance,” he said.

“Let’s first get the facts and then take it from there.”

The NPA has brought a charge of fraud, and an alternative one of theft against Gordhan for approving the early retirement and subsequent re-employment of former SARS Deputy Commissioner Ivan Pillay.

He is due in court next Tuesday to answer to these, along with Pillay and former SARS Commissioner Oupa Magashula.

The Mail & Guardian reported that Symington was questioned by the Hawks about his stated legal opinion that there was nothing that prevented SARS from releasing Pillay with full benefits before the age of 60 and rehiring him on a contract basis.

Meanwhile, an affidavit filed to the Pretoria High Court on Wednesday by two Constitutional rights groups that are challenging the decision to charge the finance minister, suggest that in the last week the Hawks have redoubled their efforts to find evidence against Gordhan to substantiate many, including the minister, consider to be politically motivated.

Francis Antonie, the director of the Helen Suzman Foundation, filed the supplementary affidavit, along with a subpoena served on the CEO of the Government Pensions Administration Agency, Krishen Sukdev, last Thursday.

Sukdev was instructed to provide copies of documents submitted relating to the early retirement of Pillay as well as an affidavit explaining the approval of requests from 3,000 other government employees to retire before the age of 60.

It also demands proof that Gordhan was responsible for such approval in five cases. The subpoena also refers to the so-called rogue intelligence unit within SARS, which Moyane, the Hawks and the NPA contend operated illicitly under Gordhan’s watch when he served his first term as finance minister.

Antonie said the subpoena showed that the NPA rushed to charge Gordhan without having sufficient evidence and was belatedly trying to build a case.

“The subpoena is an indictment of the investigative and prosecutorial process,” he argued in the submission.

“It is also clear that the NPA … had never completed sufficient investigations nor had sufficient evidence to take the formidable decision to prefer charges against Minister Gordhan.”

Gordhan was briefing the committees on the medium-term budget policy statement he delivered on Wednesday against a backdrop of political intrigue, a fact both him and Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas lamented.

“Any sign of political noise, is likely to have a negative impact on growth,” Jonas warned.

[Source: SABC]
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