It was March last year, and disciplinary hearings into Ivan Pillay and other senior South African Revenue Service officials were about to start.
Sars wanted deputy commissioner Pillay and his former colleagues out of the revenue service.
In order to achieve that, Pravin Gordhan – who was Sars commissioner from 1999 to 2009 – was needed testify against Pillay and others. But he was not willing to do so.
Several letters were leaked to City Press. From these letters, it became very clear to me that the Sars leadership wanted Pillay and those close to him out. And Gordhan’s resistance put him and Sars commissioner Tom Moyane on opposing sides.
Moyane is said to be very close to President Jacob Zuma.
Gordhan, on the other hand, has raised questions about tenders in which Zuma’s allies and family members were involved.
He also refused to appear at a breakfast briefing hosted by the Gupta-owned New Age newspaper.
Lawyers and auditors became the beneficiaries of the process to get rid of Pillay and other executives. The process was later resolved through a political solution. Pillay and the others left Sars “amicably”, smiling all the way to the bank after having signed confidentiality agreements.
At the time the agreement was that all investigations – both internally and otherwise – would be stopped.
In May last year, Moyane went against this and laid criminal charges against Pillay and others based on the findings of the Sikhakhane inquiry on the so-called Sars rogue unit. The report, led by Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, found irregularities that have been a matter of dispute based on the legality of the process.
The criminal charges – according to my sources at Sars, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Hawks – were aimed at Pillay and other former Sars executives.
With the charges, the current NPA management was to benefit in settling a score by finding something to be used against senior prosecutor Gerrie Nel.
The finding was that Nel violated the Public Finance Management Act by paying a former intelligent agent for security cameras and audio recording devices through his wife’s account.
The agent allegedly accessed recordings and visuals and passed information to Pillay and Gordhan, who allegedly passed the information to former president Thabo Mbeki.
Mbeki allegedly wanted to know what Nel – who was the Scorpion’s Gauteng head at the time – had on former police commissioner Jackie Selebi.
Fast-forward to late last year after the case implicating Gordhan and Pillay was closed. The Hawks had been briefed and got involved in the investigations.
However at Brooklyn police station the docket remained closed and filed.
In March, a few days before Gordhan could deliver the budget speech, it became very clear that the target was no longer Pillay and other former executives.
Gordhan became the focus of the investigation and a green light to go after him was sought at the highest level.
Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza sent a copy of an information note to Police Minister Nathi Nhleko and State Security Minister David Mahlobo.
The two, according to highly placed sources within the Hawks, briefed Zuma about the case.
After struggling to build a strong case based on the so-called rogue Sars unit, the Hawks were unhappy that NPA head Shaun Abrahams kept telling them to find more evidence. They allegedly went as far as asking Nhleko to speak to Justice Minister Michael Masutha to tell Abrahams to charge Gordhan.
Last week, messages were already circulating that Gordhan would be summoned to appear before the Pretoria Magistrates’ Court.
This was confirmed by Abrahams during an impromptu media briefing yesterday.
Gordhan faces charges of fraud over Pillay’s early retirement.
With the ANC having adopted a resolution to have members facing criminal charges suspended, Gordhan may have to step down.
Does he have a case to answer for granting early retirement to Pillay? Only the courts will decide.
» Abram Mashego is a senior journalist at City Press. He specialises in matters involving crime and justice