Beleaguered Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has finally dished out answers to the 27 questions hurled at him by the Hawks.
The minister confirmed the existence of the spy unit within the South African Revenue Service (SARS)‚ and that he approved its establishment when he was SARS commissioner.
Replying the Hawks via a statement, the minister said,
“It became apparent to SARS that it had to enhance its capacity to gather intelligence (departmental intelligence) and investigate organised crime related to tax and customs legislation (for example cigarette smuggling). SARS decided in about February 2007 to set up the Unit to penetrate and intercept the activities of tax and customs related crime syndicates.”
Gordhan further stated that all the legal advice he received indicates that the establishment of the so-called ‘rogue unit’ was legal. And that the unit was an essential part of the institution’s enforcement strategy and that as far as he is aware, it performed all of its functions legally.
“My legal advice is that the establishment Unit was lawful,” he said.
He also maintained that claims that it was illegal for Sars to have intelligence gathering capacity are wrong and based on a misreading of the law.
Gordhan stated that “The unit did not initially have a name but was later successively known as the Special Projects Unit‚ the National Research Group and the High-Risk Investigations Unit. I participated in the decision to establish the Unit in February 2007.”
The embattled minister denied knowing about people who might have gone against the law. He asserted that any SARS worker that might have broken the law did so without his knowledge.
He reminded all and sundry that there is no law that allowed the Hawks to threaten him with retaliation if he failed to respond to their questions.
Elite investigation group, the Hawks had via the letter wanted to know Gordhan’s knowledge of an alleged rogue unit at the tax agency, employment of former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, Project Sunday Evening during which the National Prosecuting Authority was reportedly spied on and the involvement of Andries Van Rensburg, or “Skollie”, who left SARS under a cloud.
The power tussle between Gordhan and Tom Mayane and the scuffle between Gordhan and the Hawks has apparently made headlines since this year.
It is not out-of-place to also note that well-meaning citizens have since rallied round the minister Gordhan, who is seen as the lifeline of the country’s economy, after ex-finance minister Nene was prematurely shown the exit door by President Zuma.
One of those who have exhibited unalloyed support for Gordhan is ANC’s secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. The ruling party’s scribe issued a formal statement of support for Gordhan at the zenith of the scuffle.
Mantashe assented that the letter and plots were targeted to undermine and distract Gordhan.