Ombud says allegations false; with Pravin back, SARS executives to return?

The re-appointment of Pravin Gordhan as South Africa’s Finance Minister has been interpreted by many as a swing in the power base within the ruling ANC. We shall soon discover whether there is any substance to such assertions. Soon after calling for cutbacks in wasteful expenditure two years ago, Gordhan was sidelined by President Jacob Zuma. Without Gordhan’s protection his longtime colleagues running SA Revenue Services (who had been investigating a number of politically influential cronies) were targeted and ejected from the State’s admired tax collection unit. The key weapon wielded by opponents was the supposed existence of a “rogue spy unit” at SARS – allegations which enjoyed blanket coverage in the Sunday Times newspaper. Gordhan revealed this wound is still raw when laying into these allegations at the first opportunity during his Press Conference on Monday. This case, and that of his dispatched colleagues, has been strengthened by the Press Ombudsman’s ruling the allegations are without substance. The big question now is whether a rejuvenated Gordhan has the clout to reinstate his abused comrades. – Alec Hogg

By Jeff Wicks, News24

Durban – Former Sars officials, Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg, have welcomed the ruling by the Press Ombudsman that ordered the Sunday Times to retract and apologise for an article published in 2014 on a Sars ‘rogue spy unit’.

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were suspended from Sars pending investigations into the allegations of a “rogue unit”, but later resigned. On Sunday, former Sars commissioner, Pravin Gordhan, was reappointed to the position of the country’s finance minister, a position he held after his term at the tax authority.

Pravin Gordhan, South Africa's new finance minister, reacts during a media briefing in Pretoria, South Africa, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. South Africa's government was left trying to shore up credibility after President Jacob Zuma's debacle over who should run the finance ministry called into question his ability to oversee the economy. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
Pravin Gordhan, South Africa’s new finance minister, reacts during a media briefing in Pretoria, South Africa, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. South Africa’s government was left trying to shore up credibility after President Jacob Zuma’s debacle over who should run the finance ministry called into question his ability to oversee the economy. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

In a statement, the pair said the paper had been “advancing a tenacious campaign” that tarnished the reputation of Sars, their reputations as former Sars officials, and even the reputation of Gordhan.

“We argued that such reportage – including the serious allegations that we established and operated an illegal ‘rogue unit’ that spied on taxpayers, broke into President Jacob Zuma’s home and planted listening devices, and operated a ‘brothel’ – was manifestly untrue and was driven by malicious intent,” it read.

Locked into a particular narrative

“In certain cases, the Sunday Times relied on unsubstantiated and untested internal documents from within Sars. Instead of seeking substantiation of these allegations, the Sunday Times opted to report on them verbatim.

“It is clear, when having regard to the entire series of articles since August 2014, that the Sunday Times locked themselves into a particular narrative that was advanced to them and that the newspaper was unwilling to consider anything contrary to this.”

The two said they were in the process of lodging further complaints against the Sunday Times for articles published in December of this year.

The Sunday Times was found to be in breach of the Press Code and the Ombudsman’s ruling ordered the paper to retract all stories about its Sars “rogue unit saga” and to publicly apologise, in writing, to the three men they had implicated.

Earlier this month, an explosive affidavit was presented before the Ombudsman by  former Sunday Times journalist Pearlie Joubert, who claimed she had resigned from the newspaper in February because she was “not willing to be party to practices at the Sunday Times which I verily believed to have been unethical and immoral”.

The parties involved now have seven days to appeal the Ombudsman’s ruling. – News24

Source: http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/ex-sars-officials-welcome-press-ombuds-ruling-against-sunday-times-20151216

Sunday Times to appeal Press Ombud’s Sars ruling

By Genevieve Quintal, News24

Johannesburg – The Sunday Times will appeal the Press Ombudsman’s finding that its reportage on a so-called SA Revenue Service “rogue unit” was inaccurate, misleading and unfair.

“We are disappointed with the majority of the findings and sanctions that have been made and intend to appeal key elements of the Ombudsman’s ruling to the chair of the SA Press appeals panel,” Andy Gill, managing director at Times Media, said in a statement.

“We maintain that the reporting by the Sunday Times was balanced, unbiased, and that the newspaper had been sufficiently responsible and thorough in checking the validity of all information supplied by its numerous independent sources.”

Former Sars commissioner Pravin Gordhan, along with former senior officials Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg – who were also implicated in the Sunday Times’ series of articles on the “rogue unit” – had laid a complaint with the Ombudsman over various aspects of the reportage earlier this month.

The Sunday Times’ series of reports detailed allegations that Sars was running an apparent illegal unit, which was accused of running a brothel and spying on President Jacob Zuma, among other things.

Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were suspended from Sars pending investigations into the allegations of a “rogue unit”, but later resigned. This week, Gordhan was reappointed to the position of the country’s finance minister.

The Ombudsman’s ruling ordered the Sunday Times to retract all stories about its Sars “rogue unit saga” and to publicly apologise, in writing, to the three men they had implicated.

Gill said the newspaper had no agenda other than to uncover the truth, which it investigated diligently and in the public interest. “We are confident of our chances on appeal,” he said.

The newspaper would not comment any further until the appeal process was finalised.

Either party has seven days to appeal the Ombudsman’s ruling. – News24

Source: http://www.news24.com/SouthAfrica/News/sunday-times-to-appeal-press-ombuds-sars-ruling-20151216