Financial Mail


Prosecutor­s have released a witness list in the latest Sars criminal case that reads like a compendium of the incurably compromise­d

- @robrose_za

If you’d had any doubts, there’s no denying it any longer: the much-feared Hawks are all bird-brain and zero strategic-smarts. This is an inescapabl­e conclusion based on the list of witnesses the National Prosecutin­g Authority (NPA) intends to call to “prove” its case that three former SA Revenue Service (Sars) employees, including former acting commission­er Ivan Pillay, were key players in a “rogue unit” that illegally spied on a number of people.

Only, their list of star witnesses includes such examples of impeccable integrity as the revenue service’s former second-in-command Jonas Makwakwa, former national director of public prosecutio­ns Menzi Simelane, and suspected rhino poacher Mike Peega.

Were Jacob Zuma to call Schabir Shaik as a character witness on his behalf in his corruption trial, or if J Arthur Brown came out to bat for Markus Jooste, it would be less obviously satirical.

But no, the authoritie­s seem intent on trying to prove a deficient case with a coalition of the incurably compromise­d. First on the stand will be suspended Sars commission­er Tom Moyane. Moyane was suspended by President Cyril Ramaphosa last month for failing to deal promptly with damning corruption allegation­s against Makwakwa (who has since quit), as well as bungling Vat refunds.

Following Moyane will be Makwakwa himself. That’s something of a gift for the defence lawyers, given that Makwakwa was fingered in a Financial Intelligen­ce Centre report for having received “suspicious payments” from various companies. One of those companies, Daily Maverick reported, was New Inte- grated Credit Solutions, which, as luck would have it, scored a lucrative debt-collecting contract from Sars.

Simelane is equally well known. He was picked by Zuma as the national director of public prosecutio­ns in 2009 until a court ruled in 2012 that he wasn’t a “fit and proper” person to hold that position.

The constituti­onal court ruled that Simelane’s testimony under oath to the Ginwala commission was “contradict­ory and, on its face, indicative of Mr Simelane’s dishonesty, and raised serious questions about [his] conscienti­ousness, integrity and credibilit­y”.

But perhaps the least helpful witness for the state will be Peega, a former Sars official axed a decade ago, who was instrument­al in peddling the stories of a “rogue unit”. Peega is the sort of witness every defence lawyer salivates at the thought of cross-examining.

The story around Peega is that over Christmas in 2008, while on leave from Sars, he was arrested in Modimolle with a .303 hunting rifle that he was allegedly using to poach rhino.

In a warning statement he gave to police in January 2009, Peega admitted that he went with a syndicate to a game farm in Thabazimbi where they shot a rhino and hacked off two horns with an axe. “I received R10,000 in cash,” he said.

Peega was discipline­d by Sars, and fired five months later. Furious, he allegedly drew up a plan to “expose” and “take care” of people like Pillay and Johann van Loggerenbe­rg, who is also one of the accused in the upcoming trial. So Peega compiled an “intelligen­ce dossier” labelling the revenue service’s “special projects unit”, set up in 2007 to tackle the illicit economy, as an illegal rogue unit.

That report is a pokey work of shoddy conspiracy theories, strung together with the scant credibilit­y of other contempora­neous “intelligen­ce reports” such as “Operation Spider Web”, which was used to demonise Pravin Gordhan’s team at treasury.

Sars responded to that “dossier” at the time, billing it a “mixture of some fact and much fiction”. In retrospect, it was being too generous.

All of which sets the stage for an intriguing trial — if it ever gets to that stage. You’d be forgiven for thinking that, given the state’s witnesses, the prosecutor­s are bargaining on the case not actually going to trial.

It was, after all, resuscitat­ed from the ashes of the aborted bid to prosecute Gordhan last year. In that case, charges were withdrawn when it emerged the Hawks had supressed evidence. Significan­tly, the prosecutor­s faced zero consequenc­es for the bungling.

There are, of course, a number of theories for why this is happening now. Some say it is an attempt by those loyal to Zuma and Moyane to stave off a possible return of Pillay to Sars; others postulate it’s a belated bid to save face around the Gordhan charges.

Both those explanatio­ns ignore the Occam’s razor principle: at this point, it seems likely that the new charges may simply be a case of rank incompeten­ce at the Hawks and NPA offices in Silverton.

Peega is the sort of witness every defence lawyer salivates at the thought of crossexami­ning

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