On June 8 the North Gauteng High Court reviewed and set aside, by agreement, the impugned 2014 report compiled by the Inspector-General of Intelligence (IGI), including its findings and recommendations, on its ‘investigation’ into the media allegations against the special operations unit within the South African Revenue Service (Sars), maliciously referred to in the public domain as the so-called ‘Sars Rogue Unit’.
The special operations unit comprised the national project unit, the central projects unit, the tactical interventions unit, evidence management and technical support, and the high-risk investigations unit. At the head was Johann van Loggerenberg, at the time the group executive: tax and customs enforcement investigations at Sars. The unit was tasked with conducting civil and criminal investigations aimed at combating and preventing criminal activity and recovering tax.
The IGI report, dated October 31, 2014, resulted in a toxic slurry of disinformation and lies that swept away top Sars officials, ruined careers, stopped Sars forensic investigations, and destabilised Sars.
The report was leaked to many parties, who then became complicit in spreading the lies.
Van Loggerenberg, however, only became privy to a redacted and declassified version of this report five years later, on November 15, 2019, when it was made available to the Public Protector of South Africa.
Concoction of lies and more
He immediately issued a public statement that the report was “nothing but a concoction of lies, disinformation, fraudulent claims and a complete cover-up of evidence and facts that implicate persons associated with the State Security Agency, its Special Operations Unit and other branches, as well as other state intelligence operatives and private entities and persons associated with the ‘Services'”.
“It also purports to express ‘findings’ and ‘recommendations’ of and to the South African Revenue Service which are mala fide and ultra vires.”
On December 4, 2019, Van Loggerenberg launched an application to the high court to review and set aside the report.
The Minister of State Security (MSS) and the IGI initially served notices to appeal. Despite having been provided with ample opportunity to file the relevant records, they did not do so. Ultimately, they agreed to settle. The court ordered MSS and ICI to pay Van Loggerenberg’s costs.
Fighting the tide of disinformation
In the years from 2014 to present, Van Loggerenberg has had to fight for survival, systematically taking on all parties spreading false allegations. He has itemised this costly, time-consuming battle, which I have briefly summarised below:
- June 2015 – Television programme Carte Blanche amicably settled with Van Loggerenberg at the Broadcasting Complaints Commission of South Africa.
- December 2015 – Sunday Times newspaper lost at the Press Ombud, and printed an apology in April 2016 and October 2018.
- August 2016 – Van Loggerenberg engaged with the Public Protector’s office directly and handed over significant and credible evidence. The Public Protector (PP) claimed to have been unable to contact him. Nevertheless, the PP has relied on the State Security Report to make adverse findings against (now Public Enterprises Minister) Pravin Gordhan during his time as Sars commissioner, at the time of the establishment of the special unit.
- July 2017 – Primary protagonist Belinda Walter formally withdrew her 2014 court action against Sars and Van Loggerenberg (in his then official capacity) and tendered costs. Van Loggerenberg paid for his legal fees personally.
- September 2017 – KPMG SA and KPMG International apologised to the nation, withdrew its report’s findings, conclusions and recommendations, and repaid its full fee back to Sars.
- April 2018 – KPMG SA admitted that it failed to declare various conflicts of interests, including: being auditors of British American Tobacco SA, and Belinda Walter providing services to the forensic unit that conducted the Sars documentary review.
- May 2018 – Legal opinion advised that the so-called ‘Sikhakhane panel report’ could not be reviewed and set aside by a court as it did not carry legal or binding status. Van Loggerenberg formally refuted this report to Sars in May and June 2018.
Various tobacco companies apologised to Van Loggerenberg and/or Sars, including Phoebus (May 2018), the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (Fita) and Carnilinx (November 2019).
- September 2018 – Judge F Kroon, chair of the so-called Kroon Advisory Board, apologised and conceded that the allegation that the Sars unit was unlawfully established was not properly thought through.
- December 2019 – Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC was requested to explain to the Sars Commission of Inquiry his allegation that the Sars unit was unlawful. According to Van Loggerenberg: “He elected to not do so or find a means to do so.”
- March 2019 – Judge Kroon apologised to Sars via the Judicial Services Commission, following an amicable settlement with Van Loggerenberg.
Read: Gordhan reacts angrily to Sars rogue unit ‘rumour’ (Dec 2015)
Putting facts out in the public domain
Van Loggerenberg authored/co-authored three books to counter the false allegations:
- September 2016: ‘Rogue – The Inside Story of Sars’s Elite Crime-busting Unit’, authored with Adrian Lackay, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.
- July 2018: ‘Death and Taxes: How Sars made hitmen, drug dealers and tax dodgers pay their dues’, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.
- July 2019: ‘Tobacco Wars: Inside the spy games and dirty tricks of southern Africa’s cigarette trade’, published by NB Publishers.
Cleaning up the toxic slurry
Van Loggerenberg calls upon:
- The South African Police Service Detective and Crime Intelligence divisions, Sars, the Directorate of Priority Crimes Investigations (DPCI/Hawks), the State Security Agency, IGI and the National Prosecuting Authority to take action against: former and current employees, their co-conspirators in the media, private security and the tobacco industry who were implicated in various criminal offences and rogue activities that sought to undermine Sars (including investigations and audits).
- Those who are implicated, to the extent that they have a conscience, should contact the relevant authorities.
- The Commissioner for Sars to proactively bring finality to the matter. This would include taking action against all those who were complicit in hollowing out Sars.
Sars media briefing
On June 9, Sars stated that Sars Commissioner Edward Kieswetter has: “consistently held the view that there is no evidence of an institutionalised ‘rogue unit’ in Sars” and that the court order “brings this debate to an end”.
Further civil suits?
Van Loggerenberg has confirmed that he will be consulting his lawyers on the following:
- The feasibility of bringing civil suits against private individuals and entities, former or current state officials and operatives and contractors, relevant state organs and any other related party for damages and other relief.
- Following up on the progress made in holding those responsible to account (at various law enforcement agencies, oversight and professional bodies, and Sars), and possibly lodging further complaints.
In a media statement, Van Loggerenberg’s attorney Bernard Hotz, a director at Werksmans, states: “Our client has always, since May 2014 and later October 2014, acted in good faith as a whistleblower, in the interests of justice, the public, the South African Revenue Service (Sars) and former and current officials (and their families) who have been traumatised and harmed beyond comprehension.
“Van Loggerenberg has also had to engage and litigate at his own cost against other parties who have had access to funds, including taxpayer funds.”
The misinformation concerning the debunked ‘rogue unit’ continues to spread.
Strong action, not words, needs to be taken against the perpetrators.