More than 30 witnesses have been lined up to testify against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and three former SA Revenue Service (Sars) officials who may be charged as early as this week.
The witnesses include ANC donor Jen-Chih “Robert” Huang, a former business partner of Jacob Zuma’s nephew Khulubuse, who had his assets frozen two years ago over a R541 million tax claim.
The case against Gordhan, former Sars commissioner Ivan Pillay, former Sars high-risk investigations unit (HRIU) head Johann van Loggerenberg and former Sars commissioner Oupa Magashula is now in the hands of National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams after the Hawks concluded its investigation on Thursday afternoon.
Gordhan faces a charge of corruption for granting Pillay early retirement and later extending his contract. His former colleagues will be charged with fraud and illegal spying.
On Friday, the Hawks delivered the case docket to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) headquarters in Silverton, Pretoria, for Abrahams to handle personally.
Although NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku denied a decision to charge Gordhan and the others had been taken, City Press has learnt from four senior sources within the NPA, the Hawks and Sars, that they would “definitely” be criminally charged.
Ntlemeza was furious that Gordhan refused to present himself at the Hawks’ offices and asked Abrahams to fast track the case
A highly placed Hawks source said: “Our team finished their work on Thursday and the understanding was that the NPA should serve them with summonses to appear in court to be formally charged. Several statements have been obtained as guided by the NPA and the matter will be dealt with speedily.”
A senior source at the NPA said the summonses would be served no later than two weeks’ time.
City Press has established that Abrahams personally took over the prosecutorial management of the case shortly after his appointment in July last year.
“He kept all the lever-arch files and exhibits in his office. Not many people are allowed to peruse the files,” said another prosecutor based at the NPA head office.
However, Mfaku said yesterday that a decision to charge Gordhan and the others was yet to be taken.
“We confirm receipt of the docket relating to the Sars rogue unit matter. The NPA received the docket on August 26. The NPA has not taken any decision to prosecute any person(s),” he said.
Mfaku said prosecutors would now analyse and evaluate the evidence contained in the docket: “If there is no outstanding investigation, a decision will be made whether or not to prosecute any person(s) in relation to the matter.”
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi declined to comment.
Gordhan’s spokesperson, Phumza Macanda, could not be reached for comment.
In a four-page letter sent to the Hawks this week, Gordhan’s lawyer, Tebogo Malatji, said Sars’ investigation unit was legal and no law was broken when it was created, and the Hawks’ interpretation of the law in this regard was incorrect.
“The minister ... believed in good faith that the unit was perfectly lawful. So did his successors and all the other state agencies with whom the unit interacted for many years,” the letter states.
Malatji said the Hawks’ claim that Gordhan’s granting of early retirement and subsequent reappointment of Pillay contravened the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act and the Public Finance Management Act was “unfounded”.
“There has never been any suggestion that the minister approved the commissioner’s proposal that
Mr Pillay be allowed to take early retirement and be reappointed to persuade him to act unlawfully in any way. The minister believed in good faith that the transaction was entirely lawful,” he wrote.
Pillay and Van Loggerenberg declined to comment.
City Press has learnt that on Thursday, Pillay, Van Loggerenberg and Magashula were informed that they were officially regarded as suspects and questioned at the Hawks’ regional offices in Pretoria in the presence of their lawyers.
The questions concerned the alleged illegality of the Sars intelligence unit, Pillay’s early retirement and Project Sunday Evenings.
The Hawks gave them until September 5 to provide comprehensive answers to the questions based on the findings of the Sikhakhane Panel of Inquiry and the discredited KPMG report that followed it.
City Press has learnt that Hawks head Major General Mthandazo Ntlemeza was furious that Gordhan refused to present himself at the Hawks’ offices and asked Abrahams to fast-track the case.
“[Ntlemeza] feels that Gordhan is behaving like he is above the law,” said a senior Hawks officer.
The 30 witnesses also include former and current Sars employees and high-profile businesspeople.
A Hawks official close to the investigation said: “One of them is Huang, who complained that they [the Sars intelligence unit] targeted him and were spying on him. He also told Pillay’s successor, Tom Moyane, that Pillay and the unit spied on him and wanted to take him out of business.”
Huang donated 18 500 ANC T-shirts during the 2014 general election, which Sars confiscated because no customs duty had been paid on them.
Huang could not be reached for comment.
A senior Hawks officer and a source close to Pillay said former Sars HRIU member Helgard Lombard, who installed the “spy devices” at NPA headquarters for Project Sunday Evenings, has turned state witness in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
“He has already made a damning statement to the police and is considered to be their star witness,” said the Hawks officer.
In May this year, City Press reported that the police docket containing the case against Gordhan and his former colleagues had been transferred to the crime intelligence unit after other arms of the police “were not making sufficient progress”.
The docket history listed in the police’s own case management system revealed that the case was closed in December last year, but was suddenly reopened in the last week of May.
PROJECT SUNDAY EVENINGS
Lombard was paid R1.15 million by senior Prosecutor Gerrie Nel to install covert and concealed cameras with digital video recorders and microphones, which could be activated remotely through a cellphone. Prosecutors were able to view the NPA offices through remote-viewing software.
According to several sources within the NPA, Nel was worried about the leakage and theft of documents obtained during the corruption investigation into former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi in 2006.
However, documents obtained by City Press allege that the equipment was later used to spy on NPA officials on Sunday evenings. These recordings would be downloaded and passed to Pillay.
According to a case progress report sent to Intelligence Minister David Mahlobo in January, Lombard is alleged to have implicated former president Thabo Mbeki, former finance minister Trevor Manuel, Gordhan and Pillay as having been aware of the illegal bugging.
This, the report alleged, was because Mbeki wanted to know who else the now disbanded Scorpions were investigating. At the time, Nel was the Gauteng head of the elite unit.
In the report, sent from Ntlemeza’s office, Ntlemeza states that Sars commissioner Tom Moyane "opened a case of corruption, fraud and contravention of the Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication-Related Act."