Deafening silence from Big Tobacco about tobacco wars – Johann van Loggerenberg

Johann van Loggerenberg, the author of the explosive book Tobacco Wars, which blew the lid off the tobacco industry and its battle with SARS has been in a forgiving mood. That despite the personal cost to him and his family of his battle to expose the tobacco industry and the dirty tricks it used to sabotage competitors. Van Loggerenberg has forgiven Carte Blanche, the Sunday Times and Judge Frank Kroon, albeit after battles involving various institutions including the Press Council, Broadcasting Complaints and the Judicial Services Commissions. He has given kudos to the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association, FITA for giving an unsolicited apology and said he hoped that it meant they would pay tax in future. However, when it came to KPMG and Big Tobacco; Van Loggerenberg pulled no punches. KPMG gets a big klap right behind the head with no forgiveness and the multinationals are rounded up for a battering for keeping quiet. Van Loggerenberg accuses them of “happily playing along” and says they invented the idea of a “rogue unit”at SARS which was grabbed by the State Capture Gang. It has been the narrative that the Public Protector has employed to attack Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan and President Cyril Ramaphosa. – Linda van Tilburg

From Johann Van Loggerenberg*

On 1 August 2019, news agency Fin24 reported on an apology issued by the South African Fair-trade Tobacco Association (FITA ).

This grouping that represents the majority of local tobacco manufacturers, issued their apology on 30 July 2019:

Let me give you my personal view of this. I’m philosophical about it. I’d like to be fair.

I did accept an amicable solution with investigative television program Carte Blanche in 2015 following a complaint by me at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa (BCCSA).

Contrary to some suggesting some sort of skulduggery, it was me that personally approached, discussed and accepted an amicable solution with the Sunday Times newspaper in 2016, following a complaint by me at the Press Council.

I did accept an amicable solution with Judge Frank Kroon in 2019 following assistance by two independent Judges at the Judicial Services Commission.

My acceptance in these instances was conditional that their apologies be not only to me, but to SARS as an institution, unit members and officials (past and present) and their families and should have some sort of explanation of what went wrong (however they wished to couch it). It was not about revenge or humiliation, but rather about truth.

I do NOT accept KPMG’s supposed ‘apology’ in 2017.

Now this FITA tobacco group, different to those I’ve mentioned, had no real reason to publicly apologise to SARS, past and current officials or me. Nobody asked them to do so. They did so of own accord, seemingly as a result of media enquiries following the release of my latest book, Tobacco Wars. Several issues in the book, I doubt they were even aware of until it hit the shelves. What do they mean with their apology? They mean they believed the lies of dirty tricksters and double agents, and that some even advanced these at a time. The topic? The “rogue unit” nonsense.

Must listen: There are NO angels in tobacco industry: just bag snatchers, robbers – Van Loggerenberg

In the course of my research for Tobacco Wars, I found FITA and some of their members accessible, willing to go on record, willing to acknowledge past wrongs, willing to express regret, and some personally apologised to me. They knew nothing of a pending book. I engaged them on the basis of conducting research in the industry. But I did think at the time, that these personal apologies were never going to reach a wider audience.

Therefore, because of the fact that their public apology came unsolicited, in such public fashion and because their apology is unreservedly stated, I hope it goes a little way towards vindication of many. It is also my hope that those South African Revenue Service (SARS officials) – both past and present – that were affected by the events, and their families, take note of this apology.

I can only speak for myself, but I accept it. I believe it speaks to some principle if someone is prepared to publicly apologise and do so unreservedly without being asked to do so, and then explain why.

Does it exonerate anyone from smuggling, illicit manufacturing and tax evasion? Of course not. I doubt anybody can be so naive as to think that. I do not believe the apology to have that intention. It would be stupid to think that. Is the apology genuine? Let time dictate that for us. If the members of FITA pay their taxes as they should, and we don’t see them getting bust by the taxman for shenanigans in future, then I think it would be safe to assume that they’ve indeed turned a leaf.

My gripe is now more with the multinationals. Their silence is deafening in the wake of the revelations in the book. If you’ve read the book, you will understand why. It was in fact their double agents, spies, agent provocateurs, dirty tricksters and pals in state agencies that attacked me, then SARS, and ultimately the investigations unit, ultimately dragging in Ivan Pillay, Yolisa Pikie, Gene Ravele, Peter Richer and Pravin Gordhan. Later, even Trevor Manuel and Ronnie Kasrils were added to the myth.

Read also: The Public Protector, Pravin Gordhan and Ivan Pillay all in one. You be the judge.

It was this “rogue unit” nonsense fable, that grew and grew to where we are today.

It is the multinationals’ spies and a handful of their pals in intelligence and law enforcement agencies who were about to be exposed by SARS back in 2014 for fraud, corruption, racketeering, tax evasion and money laundering, to name a few, who cracked open the door at SARS. Their motive was to disrupt, distract and misdirect attention away from their misdeeds.

As we know, the State Capture gang was onto their “rogue unit” invention like a flash, since they’d been busy planning to grab SARS since 2013 already. We know what followed. They kicked open the door and took the hammer to our nation’s piggy bank. The State Capture gang saw the gap and these criminals happily played along all the way because it suited all. A clear example of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” if ever I’ve seen one. More jumped on this bandwagon as time went by. The entire management of SARS was eviscerated. Hundreds of irreplaceable skilled and experienced staff left. Tax collections dropped significantly year on year. SARS, once a proud institution, became a skunk of government. Every single South African is paying for these events.

Throughout, the multinationals said not one word. They knew well that it was their own double agents and law enforcement pals at play. No surprise then, that it is several of these very compromised individuals, whose lies ultimately ended up at the Public Protector and in the latest contested “rogue unit” report. It relies mainly on the fictional and flawed so-called “Sikhakhane report“, another bogus “dossier” compiled by one of these dirty tricksters (although wrongly attributed to another person), and an alleged “Inspector-General of Intelligence report”. What all these “reports” have in common are simple denominators. The same “witnesses”, the same “sources”, the same “allegations”, the same themes, the same lack of evidence, the same hocus pocus “rogue unit” label. What’s more, is that they’re all connected to big tobacco.

It was a multinational that paid and colluded with these dirty tricksters. They owe our entire nation a big apology.

Would it surprise you if I told you one of these double agents was a consultant to KPMG and this was never disclosed? Would it surprise you more if I told you the external auditors to the multinational that funded these charlatans, so happens to be KPMG?

In contrast to FITA, in my attempts to engage the other organised tobacco body, the Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (TISA), they did not want to go on record. So I will honour the confidentiality.

I would though, recommend that they do some serious introspection about events, and consider doing the right thing by SARS and its officials. Past and present. They owe it to the nation.

  • Johann van Loggerenberg, private tax practitioner, consultant, researcher and author.