Allegations, now discredited, of a "rogue unit" operating within the South African Revenue Service (SARS) are said to be the reason why long-running investigations into the Guptas fell flat, the Daily Maverick's investigative unit Scorpio reported on Tuesday.
Scorpio reported that Sars began investigating the Guptas as early as 2000, for VAT claims, customs fraud and exchange control contraventions totaling roughly R120 million. The Scorpions and the Reserve Bank also began investigating but nothing reportedly came of the case.
A complete docket was handed to the NPA in 2003 but they declined to prosecute.
In 2010, the State Security Agency (SSA) reportedly began investigating and approached Sars for assistance. By 2012 and 2013 serious investigative efforts were reportedly underway.
The investigation was only known to a select few people within Sars due to "perceived risks". It was a "massive" operation, sources told Scorpio.
But in 2013, the Guptas allegedly caught wind of the investigation. The next year, Sars wanted to conduct lifestyle audits on the family because of their personal income statements.
By 2015, those leading the investigation had been implicated in the rogue unit narrative and removed from Sars.
The allegations of the unit were widely reported in the media in 2014 and 2015. The Sunday Times would later apologise for holes in its coverage of the unit following a press ombudsman's ruling against the paper.
Nevertheless, the saga ended in the restructuring of Sars, and the exit of several people key to high-level investigations, including that of the Gupta's tax matters.
This restructuring was allegedly carried out by Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, Scorpio reported. Moyane controversially travelled to Dubai in December 2015 at the same time as the Gupta brothers, President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane and Eskom's former chief financial officer Anoj Singh.
Sandile Memela denied that Moyane's restructuring had an effect on ongoing cases.
"The recent restructuring has strengthened SARS' ability to deal with enforcement-related activities and did not affect any investigation that was undertaken," he told Scorpio.
Memela could not confirm or deny investigations into Sars as he was bound by confidentiality clauses which prevented Sars from divulging "specific information and details on the affairs of taxpayers".