The “moment” SARS rogue unit narrative was born: EFF document leak provides clues – Thamm

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) Rogue Unit is believed to be an invention of pro-Zuma individuals who were intent on excising anti-corruption busters from the country’s tax organ and beyond. A report on the so-called Rogue Unit was used to smear SARS officials, like Johann van Loggerenberg, who were investigating tax evasion linked to the tobacco industry. The report was also used to try to discredit and oust former finance minister Pravin Gordhan – who was a thorn in Zuma’s side. A new document adds granular detail to the SARS wars narrative, with Marianne Thamm of Daily Maverick fleshing out the details and background to this information placed in the public domain by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) who, ironically, view Gordhan is an enemy. This article is republished with the kind permission of Daily Maverick. – Jackie Cameron

2014 Radebe report into ‘rogue unit’ based on discredited witnesses, sheds light on genesis of attack on SARS

By Marianne Thamm*

On 30 September 2019, Equality Court Judge Roland Sutherland ruled that a 2014 classified report by the late inspector-general of intelligence (IGI), Faith Radebe, should remain part of the record in a hate speech matter involving the Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan, and EFF leaders Julius Malema and Floyd Shivambu.

While the EFF’s spinner, Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, was quick to trumpet the ruling by “Judge Southerland” as a “victory” over the EFF’s enemy No 1, Gordhan, the ruling is good for South Africa and for transparency and accountability.

The full report is now publicly available and can be accessed on the EFF website. (Thank you, Fighters)

Gordhan attempted to strike the report from the record because it had nothing to do with the hate speech charges. Why the EFF chose to attach the classified report, and where the party accessed it, is a piece of the puzzle that still has to be put in place.

All in good time.

Busisiwe Mkhwebane, SARS, Gordhan, Zapiro
That old SARS story. More of Zapiro’s magic available at www.zapiro.com.

However, its action does seem to dovetail with the Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s current attempt at nailing Gordhan – she too was in possession, illegally, of Radebe’s report.

Gordhan lodged two charges of hate speech with the Equality Court against Malema and Shivambu after Malema had, while addressing supporters outside the Zondo Commission of Inquiry in November 2018, referred to Gordhan as “a dog of white monopoly capital”. Malema also urged supporters to be “ready for war” against Gordhan.

The classified IGI report, which had been circulated nonetheless in government circles since 2014, with some confident that it offered “proof” that a “rogue unit” operated at SARS, can now be properly scrutinised and tested.

And not a moment too soon.

Because it has been secret and because it has been used behind the scenes as a threat, it is prudent to return to its origin and some of the key players, as well as the ultimate findings that were reached.

This even more so given explosive evidence of gross maladministration and corruption across all levels of government during the Zuma years that have been made public at various commissions of inquiry, as well as in the findings of the High-Level Review Panel on the State Security Agency.

The High-Level Review Panel found that Jacob Zuma, as president of South Africa, had run unconstitutional and unaccountable parallel structures within the intelligence services to serve personal and factional ANC interests.

But back in 2014, when the then-security minister David Mahlobo commissioned the report, Zuma was still president and the attacks on SARS had just begun after the appointment of Tom Moyane as commissioner the same year. It has since emerged that a year before his appointment Moyane had met with Boston-based Bain & Co’s managing director, Vittorio Massone, and had sought his views on the restructuring of SARS.

“After he received the tip-off, Massone immediately invited Moyane to the firm’s local offices in Melrose Arch. Jonas Makwakwa, the SARS official who would later become Moyane’s right-hand man at SARS, joined the discussion about what Bain could and should change in SARS,” wrote Scorpio’s Pauli van Wyk.

Mahlobo, a Zuma ally, commissioned the Radebe report after allegations of misconduct by State Security Agency (SSA) operatives Mandisa Mokwena and Belinda Walters, who were both embedded within SARS, first appeared in the media. Both women later admitted to being SSA operatives.

Read also: Taking a legal scalpel to Mkhwebane’s case against Gordhan – de Vos

What is unfortunate however, is that the report’s author, Faith Radebe, will not be able to be cross-examined on not only how she conducted her investigation, but also how a report which was meant to probe the “involvement of the SSA Special Operations Unit (SOU) and other branches of the SSA with Ms Walter and other persons in the illicit tobacco industry” morphed into an investigation of SARS itself and a finding that a “rogue unit” existed.

Mahlobo had also asked Radebe to investigate “allegations of a smear campaign by the SOU against top management of the NPA, SAPS and SARS”, the “alleged infiltration by the SSA into the tobacco industry” and “whether the SOU and/or other branches of the SSA had been involved in non-compliant utilisation of human resources, safe houses, source payment, use of intrusive measures and state resources as alleged”.

Notice anything? No mention of SARS, yet.

The Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence is a powerful position with a mandate to monitor “the intelligence and counterintelligence activities of the Intelligence Services which includes the SSA, the Crime Intelligence division of the Police and Defence Intelligence of the Defence Force”.

Considering the large-scale plunder of Crime Intelligence (CI) Secret Account (currently being unpacked in detail at the Zondo Commission) and the abuse of the SSA, the Office of the Inspector-General has been out to lunch for several years – the Zuma years to be precise.

The terms of reference of Radebe’s report, as she set out herself, were related to “allegations against SSA and the activities of the SSA in the illicit tobacco industry”.

Radebe, who died in April 2018, was a close Zuma ally and a former employee of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the SSA. Her links to the NIA and the SSA led to charges in 2010 after her appointment by the then-acting president, Kgalema Motlanthe, that she would not be able to act in a suitably independent manner in holding former comrades to account.

Radebe was a special legal adviser on conditions of service for the Intelligence Service Council and a senior manager in the Office of the Coordinator for Intelligence between 2000 and 2003. She also held positions in the National Intelligence Agency between 1998 and 1999. She was previously South Africa’s High Commissioner to the Caribbean community.

Chris Barron, in an obituary published in the Sunday Times after Radebe’s death at 66 from stomach cancer, noted that, “A little more than a year after being appointed, she referred the results of a Hawks investigation detailing shocking abuses in the police crime intelligence unit, headed by close Jacob Zuma ally Richard Mdluli, to the NPA for criminal prosecution. She backtracked after reportedly receiving a call from Zuma, then president, and having a meeting with then police minister Nathi Mthethwa.”

In March 2012, an investigation by amaBhungane found evidence of Zuma’s call to Radebe as well as her meeting with Mthethwa and the then-acting national commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi.

But back to Radebe’s report, where she lists on page two, key witnesses she approached and interviewed during her investigation.

The list makes for interesting reading, in retrospect.

Apart from interviewing SARS members who were all later to be axed, including acting deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, SARS group executive Johan van Loggerenberg, SARS head of enforcement Gene Ravele and SARS group executive for strategic planning Pete Richer, Radebe also interviewed a list of SSA operatives, many of whom have since been publicly discredited in testimony to various commissions of inquiry.

In June 2018, Ravele testified at the Nugent Commission of Inquiry into Tax Affairs that SARS’ High Risk Investigations Unit had “hurt” people who were politically connected and that is why it was targeted.

Ravele had testified to the commission that he had been “pushed out” of SARS through a series of investigations as well as a criminal case that had been lodged against him and his wife, also a SARS employee. The charges were formally dropped in September 2017 when the NPA found there had been no evidence to support the charges.

Topping Radebe’s list of SSA interviews back in 2014 was SSA Special Operations Unit head, Thulani Dlomo, nicknamed “Zuma’s private spy”, later named as a key player in the High Level Review Panel report into the State Security Agency.

Dlomo was recalled from his post as ambassador to Japan in January 2019 after the release of the panel’s report and has gone “AWOL” ever since.

The report found that Dlomo’s SOU had been a “law unto itself and directly served the political interests of the executive”.

The report also found that the SOU was a “parallel intelligence structure serving a faction of the ruling party and, in particular, the personal political interests of the sitting president of the party and the country. This is in direct breach of the Constitution, the White Paper, the relevant legislation and plain good government intelligence functioning.”

The panel recommended that, “The SOU and related matters should form the basis for serious consequences and for those involved in illegal activity, including, where appropriate, disciplinary and/or criminal prosecution.”

Witness No 3 on Radebe’s list was SSA spy Belinda Walter, who lobbed the first grenade into SARS. It was a complaint by Walter against Van Loggerenberg that set the “rogue unit” ball rolling in 2014.

It was also this complaint that led to the establishment of an investigation, the first of many, and which culminated in the KPMG report, which was later withdrawn in its entirety.

Radebe noted that Walter “was a walk-in agent in 2010 in the office of the State Security Agency Director: Domestic Branch Mr [Gibson] Njenje with information on the smuggling of cigarettes into South Africa”.

Walter also happened to work as a spy for British American Tobacco South Africa (BATSA), acted as an attorney for competitors Carnilinx and had been instrumental in setting up the original iteration of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita).

This had been done to spy on independent tobacco producers who were entering the market in competition to the established Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa (Tisa) group. Tisa, established in 1991, includes BATSA, Alliance One International, JTI South Africa, Philip Morris South Africa and Imperial Tobacco Southern Africa.

Van Loggerenberg has subsequently extensively documented in his 2019 exposé Tobacco Wars – Inside the spy games and dirty tricks of southern Africa’s cigarette trade (NB Publishers) the “incestuous relationship between Tisa, Forensic Security Services (FFS — Tisa’s private investigative arm), BATSA, and BAT plc to an extent, and our Hawks, NPA, SSA, SAPS, SAPS and CI. It is State Capture and nothing else. Imagine these were the Guptas or Watsons? I give many examples of this in the book.”

PREMIUM: Journalist Malcolm Rees: How Johann van Loggerenberg got falsely labelled a police spy

Walter was originally handled by NIA member Ferdi Fryer before being handed over to SSA member Chris Burger, who was also a witness interviewed by Radebe.

Burger was part of the SSA’s Economic Intelligence Unit and represented the SSA on the Tobacco Task Team, headed by the Hawks’ Brigadier Casper Jonker, who too has been linked to Walter.

The Tobacco Task Team itself has been implicated in alleged fraud, corruption and more.

Also on the list of those interviewed by Radebe was SSA Principal Agent Network (PAN) member Inzo Ismael who, through apartheid-era spy George Darmanovich, had met with Libyan bounty hunter Erick Iskander Goaeid. Goaeid was trying to locate loot stashed outside Libya by Muammar Gaddafi that was reportedly worth billions of US dollars.

Goaeid has insisted that he located $12.5-billion cash “sitting on pallets in a Johannesburg airplane hangar a few years ago” according to The Daily Beast‘s Shane Harris.

Darmanovich, who was assassinated in Serbia in 2018, was photographed along with South African intelligence operative Frans Richards in Zuma’s office in 2012. Darmanovich, wrote investigative journalist Caryn Dolley, “has been viewed in intelligence circles as part of a parallel intelligence unit”.

Radebe also interviewed Mandisa Mokwena, a deep-cover agent for State Security who had been embedded in SARS. Mokwena’s husband, Barnard, was outed in 2016 by Pieter-Louis Myburgh, then writing for City Press, as a deep cover SSA agent.

Barnard Mokwena was the former head of human resources at Lonmin and adopted a particularly harsh attitude towards striking Marikana miners in 2012, wrote Myburgh.

“Mokwena came under fire at the Farlam commission of inquiry into the massacre, after evidence submitted showed he encouraged police to act strongly against the workers and members of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and that he convinced fellow Lonmin executives not to negotiate with them.”

A year later, Mokwena founded a company which would later play a key role in a covert intelligence operation, linked to Zuma, setting up a new labour union to disempower AMCU. Back then, current president, Cyril Ramaphosa, was a non-executive director of Lonmin when police opened fire killing 34 striking miners.

In August this year, Daily Maverick’s Sikonathi Mantshantsha revealed that Mandisa Mokwena had been working for more than a year for Prasa without a contract while spearheading a R5-billion investment scheme that had not followed any procurement process.

“In May 2017, Stephen Joseph SC, told the North Gauteng High Court that his client, Mandisa Mokwena, ‘went about her work diligently, that’s her crime’. That was for her work as a deep-cover agent for the State Security Agency while she also worked for the South African Revenue Service. For a year now she has been working diligently, and irregularly without a contract, as the head of security at Prasa, even as she spearheads a R5-billion investment programme that has not followed any procurement processes,” wrote Mantshantsha.

Mandisa Mokwena is a former business partner of former First Lady Thobeka Zuma.

Also interviewed by Radebe was SSA member Riana Peach who, along with Thulani Dlomo had “handled” Mokwena. It was Peach who paid Mokwena her SSA fee while she worked at SARS.

Radebe seems enamoured with the testimony offered by many of these SSA operatives and agents, and in fact, the entire report, while no longer about illegal SSA activities or SOU attempts to smear the NPA, SAPS and SARS, morphs into an investigation of an apparent “rogue unit” in SARS.

Radebe explains in her introduction how and why she shifted the focus of the investigation off the SSA and on to SARS.

“In the conduct [sic] of the investigation, it became necessary to enquire into the allegations made by Ms Walter against SARS and which necessitated interviews with members of SARS.”

Radebe added that, “The investigation revealed allegations against the conduct of members of SARS that expose unlawful conduct in contravention of the SARS mandate. Whilst being mindful of the fact that the scope of the IG’s mandate does not extend to SARS, it would be remiss of this office not to report the alleged unlawful activities in a state institution, especially as it may involve intelligence and security activities.”

What you might be reading in fact, is the moment the “rogue unit” narrative was born.

Radebe labels the now-discredited Walter as “an invaluable source” and says that “weight must be attached” to the evidence of former undercover SARS official and SSA spy Mike Peega, who penned a dossier of people allegedly targeted by SARS “after Polokwane”. Peega was later arrested for rhino poaching. He later leaked his “dossier” to Julius Malema.

“One cannot downplay the existence of a rogue covert unit in SARS despite vehement denials by SARS officials,” writes Radebe.

She recommends that criminal charges be investigated against Pillay, Gordhan, Van Loggerenberg and Richer “for the establishment and involvement in the covert intelligence unit at SARS”.

Radebe recommends in 2014 that statements be taken from Peega, Fitoyi (a SARS official who was later dismissed for serious misconduct and fraud) and Walter.

But that was before various costly panels, commissions of inquiry and other investigations that have since put firmly to rest any notion that a “rogue unit” existed. Stories published by the Sunday Times investigative team have been withdrawn, KPMG and Judge Kroon have apologised.

In making the IGI report public, the EFF has unfortunately (or fortunately) exposed the identities of some undercover operatives, but Malema and Shivambu have ultimately done us a huge favour.

Those who might have banked on Radebe’s report breathing new life into the attempt to hobble and charge Gordhan and others have miscalculated the effect of the deluge of evidence of government malfeasance that has poured into the public domain.

This has exposed once more the vast network of corrupt government officials who protected Zuma, did his bidding, all the while hoovering up chunks of taxpayers’ money that could have built houses, schools, hospitals, increased social grants, implemented land reform… and so on and so forth. DM