POLITICS

EXTRACT: How SARS Official Blocked Zuma's Pal And The ANC

Robert Huang seems to have good friends in very high places, according to this extract from journalist Jacques Pauw's new book.

30/10/2017 06:12 SAST | Updated 30/10/2017 08:45 SAST

Jen-Chih "Robert" Huang calls himself a businessman, an "importer-exporter" and a "clearing and forwarding agent". He also "fixes" business deals from China. He may have imported a few washing machines from the Far East, but his main business is allegedly customs fraud, smuggling and money laundering. He is also a tax evader – and a convicted murderer who has done time in jail.

Taiwanese-born Huang was part of an influx of foreign businessmen from countries such as China, India and Russia who came to South Africa in the early nineties to explore new business opportunities. Little is known about his earlier years in South Africa, but he found himself in the dock in the Bloemfontein High Court in November 1997, charged alongside six accomplices for the murder of Ching-Ho Kao, a Taiwanese businessman.

Tafelberg Publishers

Kao had disappeared from a Chinese restaurant in Rosebank, Johannesburg. His white Mercedes was found abandoned in Pretoria the next day. The Mail & Guardian reported that the trial was conducted under high security conditions because police believed the accused were part of the Chinese triads. Three Taiwanese interpreters, fearing for their lives, withdrew their services before the trial got under way. The state's indictment claimed the motive for the murder was that Kao's family was in debt to Huang.

In his ruling in August 1998, the judge said Huang was one of the "big bosses" and gave evidence that amounted to "infamous lies" and insulted the court's intelligence. Huang was nonetheless sentenced to only an effective 12-year prison term.

It is also peculiar that he continued to stay in South Africa after he was released from prison. Surely he was supposed to be deported back to Taiwan?

Huang reportedly became a reborn Christian in prison and assisted the police in solving crimes in the Chinese community. As a result, he got a significant reduction in his sentence. When he was released in 2003, he established Mpisi Trading 74.

According to Paul O'Sullivan, who has taken a keen interest in Huang, his criminal record has been expunged. It is also peculiar that he continued to stay in South Africa after he was released from prison. Surely he was supposed to be deported back to Taiwan?

Huang has a South African ID number, which indicates that he might have citizenship. His wife, Shou-Fang Huang (also known as Shou-Fang Cho), also has a local ID number. How does a foreigner with a murder conviction who has done prison time get South African citizenship?

Huang built a massive business in South Africa, offering services ranging from forwarding, exporting, importing and warehousing to cellphone telecommunication, machinery and car manufacturing. His modus operandi appears almost a carbon copy of Zuma's close friends, the Gupta family.

Again, just as the Guptas have paraded with Zuma and shared photographs far and wide, Huang's website boasted pictures of Khulubuse Zuma and Huang at the company's headquarters in Bedfordview, Johannesburg.

While the Guptas befriended Zuma's youngest son, Duduzane, Huang cosied up to the president's nephew, Khulubuse Zuma. He was at the time described by Mpisi's website as the "chairman". And just as the Guptas would brag about their access to Zuma, Huang's website (wrongly) exclaimed: "His father is the president of South Africa, Mr Zuma."

Again, just as the Guptas have paraded with Zuma and shared photographs far and wide, Huang's website boasted pictures of Khulubuse Zuma and Huang at the company's headquarters in Bedfordview, Johannesburg.

In 2010, the Dongfeng Motor Corporation in China announced a joint venture with Khulubuse Zuma and Huang to distribute its products in South Africa and the rest of the continent. Nothing came of it. After the media jumped on Huang about his presidential connections, he made changes to his website. He was also a member of a business delegation that accompanied Jacob Zuma on a state visit to China in 2010.

In 2012, it was widely reported that the Hawks were probing Huang and Mpisi for a multibillion-rand racket at the Durban harbour. In June of that year, the Hawks in KwaZulu-Natal secured a warrant for Huang's arrest. Investigators from the elite unit also raided his home and business. Huang was at the time in Hong Kong and sidestepped the Hawks by directly approaching the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to make representations as to why he should not be arrested.

The warrant for Huang's arrest came weeks after a former SARS official, Etienne Kellerman, was arrested on 80 counts of alleged corruption. Kellerman was suspected of receiving substantial benefits for allegedly allowing contraband through the harbour. The case against him was later withdrawn for unknown reasons. The Daily News reported that an international syndicate, allegedly with links to Huang, was said to bribe customs and police officials to allow in container-loads of contraband.

This investigation was the culmination of joint efforts between the Hawks, the NPA, police crime intelligence and SARS's anti-corruption and security unit (ACAS), the unit that Yegan Mundie had worked for while his wife happened to be an employee of Huang.

* * *

In the run-up to the May 2014 national elections, SARS customs officials pounced on a container entering South Africa. It contained 18,500 ANC T-shirts, many of them adorned with a portrait of Jacob Zuma. SARS refused to release the consignment brought into the country by Mpisi Trading because no import tax had been paid on it.

Zuma's legal adviser, Michael Hulley, who had incidentally worked previously for Huang, was called to assist. The imported T-shirts that were apparently donated to the ANC were valued at R118 million. With an ailing textile industry, tax on imported clothing is very high. SARS charged Mpisi R41 million in import duty.

The ANC was furious at SARS's refusal to release the consignment. A meeting was reportedly held at ANC headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg between Ivan Pillay and ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize.

Ivan Pillay's refusal to budge illustrated his tenacity and unshakeable belief in the independence of the tax collector.

Reports state that Pillay was adamant that the clothing would only be released once the ANC had settled its tax obligations. The ANC relented and grudgingly either they or Huang paid the taxes.

Ivan Pillay's refusal to budge illustrated his tenacity and unshakeable belief in the independence of the tax collector. He was a devout ANC comrade with impeccable struggle credentials yet was prepared to stand up for the principle that everyone is equal before the law.

Several analysts reckoned that the T-shirt saga, which left the ANC R40 million poorer, contributed to the eventual demise of Pillay and the others at SARS. Respected investigative journalist Sam Sole has written: "Holding up a multimillion-rand consignment of ANC campaign T-shirts before the April elections was one of the factors that fed into the leadership purge of the South African Revenue Service."

It is important to remember that the saga around the ANC T-shirts happened at the same time as SARS was wanting R22 million from the ruling party for not paying their taxes.

It is important to remember that the saga around the ANC T-shirts happened at the same time as SARS was wanting R22 million from the ruling party for not paying their taxes. Sole said that people close to Zuma in the intelligence sphere told him that SARS must be brought under control because they were "after people".

* * *

In June 2014, Judge Aubrey Ledwaba, deputy judge president of the Pretoria High Court, made an order that all assets belonging to Huang and his companies, including cars worth R32 million and property valued at R99 million, be frozen. Among the properties were six houses in the Woodhill Golf Estate in Pretoria, rated as the third-best residential address in South Africa. In granting the preservation order, the court heard that Huang and his companies had 26 accounts at various banks.

The tax inquiry into Huang and the audit of his tax liability formed one of the biggest in SARS history. It took the tax collector almost a year and eight thousand pages of documentation and evidence to present him with an initial tax bill of R541 million. It has since been growing to well over a billion rand – and penalties and taxes have not even been added.

News24 reported in February 2015 that his bill had ballooned to R1.8 billion. The case had cost the taxpayer a fortune. Several auditors and investigators worked on the case and at times SARS employed up to three senior advocates to litigate against Huang and his companies.

SARS Central Projects manager Pieter Engelbrecht said in a court affidavit that Huang used his network of companies "as conduits to evade Mpisi's tax liability and to export large amounts of money" overseas. They did this by using people who had "virtually no knowledge of the business" as proxies for Huang. The proxies were often asked to sign documents without knowing what they were signing. Large amounts of cash were then shipped out of the country. Engelbrecht said "certain key witnesses . . . were suddenly no longer employed by Mpisi and have either returned to China without any intention of returning, or their whereabouts are allegedly unknown".

He (Huang) accused SARS of conducting a witch-hunt against him and his companies – a standard defence for most serial and serious tax offenders.

One of Huang's employees testified how he destroyed the accounts of one of Huang's companies. "I threw them away in dustbins," he said. When asked why, he responded: "I thought because we're losing money when we closed the company, there's no need to keep the documents." The employee was also shown hundreds of foreign exchange applications, supposedly signed by him, so that Huang's companies could ship cash overseas.

The official had signed a single application form in blank and this form was then copied multiple times. As a result, "very large amounts of money left the country". In April 2013, SARS's Central Projects Unit, which resided under Johann van Loggerenberg, obtained a search warrant and raided Huang's home and his businesses. This must have been when they stumbled upon a list of names including government officials and politicians with amounts of money reflected next to them. It seems that the tax collector couldn't do anything with the list because Huang attempted to have the search warrant declared unlawful.

The High Court rejected his application in September 2014 and ruled that the warrant was legal. By then, SARS was under siege. Van Loggerenberg was suspended in November 2014, and Pillay and others followed shortly afterwards. The list was put away in Huang's file, which thereafter undoubtedly fell into the hands of Moyane and his henchmen.

Huang has been adamant throughout that "allegations and suspicions of tax wrongdoing . . . remain vague, speculative, and unsubstantiated". He accused SARS of conducting a witch-hunt against him and his companies – a standard defence for most serial and serious tax offenders.

It is astonishing that Michael Hulley came to represent a tax evader and money launderer who was litigating against the state.

The High Court appointed a curator to manage Mpisi's financial affairs. In a June 2014 meeting with the curator, Huang said he was willing to learn from his mistakes, which was why "I try my best to do everything by the book". It emerged from the minutes that the curator had told Huang that Mpisi was not banking all its cash, that its accounting system was "problematic" and that the information they were providing to him was untrue. He threatened to have Huang and his accounting officer arrested for contempt of court.

In the June 2014 meeting, the curator noted that "Hulley Incorporated have accepted service on behalf of the First and Second Respondents [Jen- Chih Huang and Shou-Fang Huang]". Hulley Incorporated is the law firm of Jacob Zuma's legal adviser, Michael Hulley.

What if Jacob Zuma needed legal advice about the Haung case? Would he ask his lawyer Hulley for his legal opinion?

It is astonishing that Michael Hulley came to represent a tax evader and money launderer who was litigating against the state. It is a priority of SARS to collect as much tax from Huang as legally permitted. Huang, on the other hand – represented by Hulley – seemed willing to do his utmost to frustrate the process and counter SARS wherever he could.

What if Jacob Zuma needed legal advice about the Haung case? Would he ask his lawyer Hulley for his legal opinion? Surely Zuma receives confidential briefings on high-profile and sensitive tax cases, of which Huang would probably have been one. Did Hulley sit in on these briefings and offer his opinion?

This is an extract from The President's Keeper by Jacques Pauw, published by Tafelberg and retailing for R280.