28/06/2018 11:58 SAST | Updated 28/06/2018 12:00 SAST

'Rogue Unit' Allegations? 'Hogwash!' Says Sars Inquiry Witness

The investigative capacity at Sars was crippled under Moyane’s watch, the revenue service's chief officer for enforcement has told the Nugent Commission.

Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, who reportedly used the Sunday Times' false 'rogue unit' story as an excuse to gut effective anti-corruption governance at Sars.
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Sars commissioner Tom Moyane, who reportedly used the Sunday Times' false 'rogue unit' story as an excuse to gut effective anti-corruption governance at Sars.

The man who once oversaw the South African Revenue Service's so-called "rogue unit" has made an explosive testimony at the inquiry into governance and tax administration at Sars.

Gene Ravele, chief officer for enforcement at Sars, testified at the inquiry on Thursday and delivered a fiery account of his tenure under suspended commissioner Tom Moyane.

READ MORE: Gordhan At Sars Inquiry: Calm And Collected, Despite Curveballs

Ravele alleged that the investigative capacity at the institution was crippled on Moyane's watch, to the extent that illicit cigarette factories across the country are no longer inspected.

The controversial high-risk investigations unit, which famously became known as the "rogue unit", was one of the teams under Ravele's portfolio during his almost 20-year-long tenure.

He said the team acted as technical support service to other units investigating various tax-related crimes. Ravele maintained that the unit did not possess any specialised surveillance equipment, and worked mostly with standard cameras and video cameras, which its members purchased with their own funds.

"I said it before to Moyane that I have not seen any piece of paper suggesting that that unit bought any surveillance equipment. The only thing Sars gave them was computers and a printer," Ravele said, describing allegations that the unit used listening devices to spy on certain individuals as "hogwash".

"The anti-corruption and security unit had such equipment. I didn't know about the equipment until Moyane and [deputy Sars commissioner Jonas Makwakwa] took me to a basement in Newlands and showed me."

Ravele claimed that when Sunday Times forwarded inquiries to Sars about their story on the unit in 2014, Moyane called a special exco meeting where he asked for the unit to be disbanded.

"Kill it", "it's like a cancer" were some of the phrases Ravele used when quoting Moyane in verbatim at the meeting.

READ MORE: Sars Under Moyane: A Climate Of Fear, Intimidation, And Revenue Mistrust

Following headlines in Sunday Times about the unit in October 2015, Ravele claimed Moyane wanted all surveillance operations stopped with immediate effect.

"He said he lost all confidence in us. He said no rogue activity will happen on [his] watch. Why call everybody else and humiliate us... Moyane dissolved exco but each member retained their positions as heads of departments or units... He rescinded the decision to disband exco a month later, but there a few new faces added on," Ravele said.

Ravele described how his relationship with Moyane thereafter deteriorated. Ravele resigned in 2015, after criminal charges of fraud and corruption were opened against him (the NPA declined to prosecute him on these charges over a lack of evidence).

"The NPA refused to prosecute because there was no evidence. The case was built for the media. They make you sign a nondisclosure agreement then they leak the information to the media, and you can't respond. My wife (who also works at Sars) was treated like a casualty. They started leaking stories to the media about her... My guilt may be was that I was seen to be aligned to Pravin Gordhan. People that were seen to be aligned to me after I left went through the same process," Ravele said.

Ravele became emotional toward the end of his testimony.

"All inspections at cigarette factories were stopped. The whole operating model review was about dismantling enforcement. After I left they (various units) were instructed to stop inspecting cigarette factories. There was an instruction issued that inspections were to be stopped. As far as I know, it was a decision my Makwakwa. The people in customs and enforcement knew about the decision," he said.

"The illicit economy... those projects or units... they were looking into the illicit economy in general. There is no unit now looking into the illicit economy."