The first attempts to compromise the SA Revenue Service (Sars) date back to long before Tom Moyane arrived as commissioner and used the controversy over a so-called "rogue unit" to sideline or axe a number of key staff.
Documents leaked anonymously by SA Tobacco Espionage detail a range of dirty tricks targeting officials at Sars — the agency which had remained a thorn in the flesh of an industry seemingly breaking the rules at every turn.
It’s been a smart tactical game played by the tobacco companies, most of which typically hire their own former spies or policemen to stay ahead of the opposition. But SA’s tobacco industry’s spy-v-spy approach has left a trail of disaster at Sars.
Now, Francois van der Westhuizen, a former apartheid-era policeman who worked for British American Tobacco (BAT)’s security contractor, FSS, has provided an affidavit detailing how certain Sars officials were paid kickbacks years ago — a claim BAT denies.
Van der Westhuizen claims some Sars officials turned a blind eye to "BAT’s tax evasion and money laundering".
Frustrated after Sars ignored him, he laid criminal charges against certain of the allegedly corrupt officials last September — to no avail.
"Until now, nothing has happened," he told the Financial Mail. "This case has been swept under the carpet. I’m hopeful that something will happen now."
When asked why no action had been taken against BAT, the Hawks told the Daily Maverick this was because "no formal docket has been opened".
But not only Van der Westhuizen reported it — so did former Sars head of investigations, Johann van Loggerenberg.
"In February 2014, I made the Hawks aware of most of what has been revealed recently (on EspionageSA’s twitter account)," Van Loggerenberg told the Financial Mail. "I did so again in early 2015. I also reported these issues to the State Security Agency in 2014 and again in 2015."
He also reported this to Sars and to a panel investigating issues at Sars, set up under Muzi Sikhakhane. Nothing happened.
One possible reason why no action was taken against BAT lies in the fact that the Tobacco Task Team, made up of various law enforcement authorities including the Hawks and which was meant to police the industry, was itself especially close to BAT.
In many cases, the task team relied on "intelligence" collected by BAT to tackle the illicit tobacco sector.
One of the Sars officials who expressed reservations about this task team years ago was Van Loggerenberg, who was given a "warning statement" by the Hawks last week as part of its probe into the "rogue unit".
Ostensibly, the Hawks seem to believe the establishment of this unit, first set up as the Special Projects Unit in 2007, broke the National Strategic Intelligence Act. In reality, the only apparent violation thus far seems to be the unit’s "project Sunday Evenings", when the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority were bugged in 2007. (This was before Van Loggerenberg headed the unit).
Still, this "rogue unit" controversy has been fuelled by several people with a stake in the tobacco sector, who will have benefited from the fact that Moyane has cleared out several of the individuals who made life difficult for the companies.
In particular, Van Loggerenberg took a hard line against BAT. In 2014, Sars hit the London- and JSE-listed company with a R1.79bn tax bill, after "reassessing" its payments between 2006 and 2010, according to the company’s most recent annual report. (BAT says it is appealing against part of these reassessments.)
However, Van Loggerenberg also took a dim view of the fact that BAT had paid its network of informants (including lawyer Belinda Walter) in SA by giving them Travelex cards, which are loaded with money in the UK.
Van Loggerenberg, in text messages, described the payments as "concealed transactions", adding that what was being done was illegal, both in terms of exchange controls and money laundering.
(BAT, in letters, says it broke no rules and all tax was properly accounted for.)
Walter, some months after her romantic relationship with Van Loggerenberg broke up, was one of the first to claim publicly that there was a "rogue unit" at Sars, in August 2014. She was reiterating claims first made by Mike Peega, an ex-Sars official and perhaps the biggest advocate of the "rogue unit" story, ever since he was fired from Sars over allegations involving rhino poaching.
Peega was one of the initial members of the Sars covert unit, and had offered his story of a "rogue unit" to several media houses in 2010, as part of a dossier he compiled against his former employer entitled "Project Snowman".
Yet Peega later worked as a "consultant" for the Tobacco Institute of SA, which is dominated by BAT, invoices show.
Others who used to work in the Tobacco Task Team include former police colonel Hennie Niemann, who tried to dig up "dirt" on Van Loggerenberg back in 2014, according to former Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay’s letter to parliament.
While the "rogue unit" case is the most obvious instance, there were numerous other instances of tobacco executives trying underhanded tactics to sideline tax officials who proved troublesome. In one of the earliest instances, well-placed sources describe how tobacco executives conspired to smear Marietjie van Wyk, a Sars official who was investigating Carnilinx, by claiming she had taken a bribe. The smear worked: she was removed from the case.
The evidence suggests the tax agency has been perhaps the biggest victim of well-orchestrated machinations by the tobacco industry, in which double agents and triple agents have done their best to blow smoke over the true picture.