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