South Africa

Analysis: Mkhwebane plays a hidden hand in new Gordhan SARS ‘rogue unit’ probe

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's office has hidden the fact that the EFF is a complainant in a new Pravin Gordhan probe. Why?

Update: Public Protector's spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe has sent us the following statement:

There are two investigations. One into Mr. Pillay’s retirement, pension payout and reemployment at SARS. It was on the basis of this investigation that the PP subpoenaed Minister Gordhan late last year. The picture you share above relates to this investigation. The complainant in the matter chose to remain anonymous. Some newspaper or the other revealed his/her identity round about the time of the Minister’s appearance before the PP. S/he issued a statement complaining that his identity was revealed. Check the internet for that information.

The so-called “Rogue Unit” investigation, in which the EFF is the complainant, is not related to the one above. It is separate. You will even the reference number in the subpoena ends with “16”, which is the year during which the complaint was lodged.

  A funny thing happened to a subpoena from the Public Protector's office en route to former SARS Commissioner, Oupa Magashula, for him to answer questions with regard to a complaint lodged against Minister of Public Enterprises, Pravin Gordhan. While the EFF have publicly revealed that the party is behind the complaint, Busisiswe Mkhwebane chose to hide this, noting the complainant as “anonymous”. Mhkwebane's office has subpoenaed former SARS Commissioner Oupa Magashula, to answer questions with regard to various SARS matters including the “rogue unit” as well as the approval of an early pension payout to former deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay. Magashula confirmed to Daily Maverick on 11 March 2019 that he had received the Public Protector's subpoena. For now, park the Magashula subpoena story, and let's move on to the second strand featuring the Public Protector, because, in the end, the strands are inexorably intertwined. Over and above the subpoena, there are serious questions surrounding the Public Protector's sense of urgency at this point in the unravelling of the State Capture project, particularly in pursuit of the old “SARS Rogue Unit” narrative advanced by Zuma's spooks and now, apparently by the EFF. It was confirmed at the weekend that Mhkwebane has been accused by New Dawn Minister of State Security, Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, of criminally obtaining a classified document the Public Protector is not entitled to. This document is a 2014 investigation, by the then Inspector General of Intelligence, Faith Radebe, into misconduct by State Security operatives embedded in SARS and commissioned by then minister of state security, David Mahlobo who, unsurprisingly, features prominently (although unnamed) in the recently-released but redacted High-Level Report into State Security. Letsatsi-Duba has lodged a criminal complaint against the Public Protector and which is currently being investigated by the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation. More serious you cannot get. With regard to Radebe's classified report, an impression has been created that the probe was into SARS, when in fact, it was not – it was into SSA agents. The Inspector General of Intelligence (IGI) has no statutory mandate or jurisdiction over SARS. What Mahlobo was wanting the IGI to investigate, at the time, was what his SSA spooks, Belinda Walter and Mandisa Mokwena, were up to. Both women later publicly admitted to being SSA operatives at SARS. At more or less the same time Mhkwebane obtained the classified IGI report which she claims was leaked to her office in a brown envelope, she also undertook to pick up where former Hawks head, Berning Ntlemeza, left off and go for Pravin Gordhan, resuscitating 2016 charges lodged by former Commissioner Tom Moyane. During an application on Wednesday at the Zondo Commission by Tom Moyane, through his legal representative, Dali Mpofu, to cross-examine Gordhan it emerged that Moyane was seeking to admit the IGI's classified report. This is the same report that found its way leaked to Mhkwebane and for which she is being investigated by the Hawks. Judge Raymond Zondo ruled on Wednesday that he would reserve judgment on whether the classified IGI report could be admitted. Daily Maverick has sent a question to Public Protector spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe as to why the PP's office would conceal the identity of the complainant in the Pravin Gordhan matter. He has undertaken to respond as soon as possible. On 10 March 2019, the EFF issued a statement confirming that it was behind the complaint to the Public Protector. The Public Protector has received the report of the Inspector General on Intelligence, which confirms the illegality of the Rogue Unit and now in defence of Pravin Gordhan, Minister Letsatsi-Duba is threatening the Office of the Public Protector with criminal prosecution. The EFF is well aware that this is a ploy to prevent the office of the Public Protector from confirming the fact that there was an illegal intelligence unit against Section 209 of the Constitution established at SARS under the leadership of Pravin Gordhan,” EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said. The EFF is concerned with this interference, because we are the ones who lodged a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector, and requested that she must investigate the illegal SARS Intelligence Unit, which we suspect continues to exist under Ivan Pillay and Johan van Loggerenberg. Opening a criminal case against the Office of the Public Protector is pure opportunism aimed at preventing the Public Protector from confirming the existence of illegal unit,” he continued. Where there is smoke at present, dear reader, there are mirrors. The spark for Mahlobo's commissioning of the report from Radebe was a series of articles that appeared in City Press in 2014 alleging misconduct by Walter and Mokwena. At the time, Mahlobo's office announced: In the wake of weekend newspaper reports alleging improper conduct against persons reported to be associated with the State Security Agency, the minister of state security ... has requested the inspector-general of intelligence, Advocate Faith Doreen Radebe, to conduct an investigation in terms of the Intelligence Services Oversight Act, Act 40 of 1994. The investigation will seek to establish the facts and get to the bottom of the allegations made about members of the State Security Agency.” Walter had laid a complaint against former SARS group executive Johann van Loggerenberg after their relationship had ended in May 2014. The rest is history. Walter, according to City Press, had confessed to Van Loggerenberg that she had worked as a spy for a unit of the security agency, which also happened to be investigating tobacco smugglers SARS itself had been probing. Tobacco – remember that, is part of the smoke and mirrors in this tale. Announcing the probe in 2014 Mahlobo said: “We remain accountable and would conduct our trade craft within the spirit of the Constitution and the law. As indicated before, we are committed to professionalise (sic) the service and will deal decisively with ill discipline irrespective of any person involved.” Of course, no such thing occurred. Instead, the IGI report ended up gathering dust it appears, until now – when it is needed. Back in 2014 City Press confirmed the existence of the Special Operations Unit of the SSA, “where rogue agents use state resources to conduct dirty tricks campaigns, smuggle cigarettes and disgrace top civil servants”. And then, this bombshell revelation: “Among their members are Walter, former full-time SSA agents, police officers, military intelligence agents and former members of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, the defence force’s death squad during apartheid.” SSA member Mandisa Mokwena, who worked for SARS in 2009, was charged with 43 counts of fraud and money laundering relating to tender irregularities. Mokwena, who was a former business partner of former First Lady, Thobeka Zuma, was found not guilty of the charges in 2017. Mokwena's defence was that sums of money deposited into her private account were not the proceeds of fraud, but payments by the State Security Agency for “work she did for them as a source”. Mokwena was appointed the head of economic intelligence; special operations of SSA after she had resigned from SARS when the fraud charges were lodged. Mokwena's boss was Thulani Dlomo, appointed in early 2012 as the head of special operations at the SSA. Dlomo, who was recently recalled by President Cyril Ramaphosa from his diplomatic post in Japan, is also heavily implicated in the High-Level report into the SSA. Dlomo, City Press noted at the time, was the former head of security in KwaZulu-Natal’s social development department but he resigned after an internal audit found alleged irregular behaviour with regard to tender procedures and that he had awarded suspicious contracts worth R45-million. And here two threads of the story come together. The question here and now is if the IGI had conducted a proper investigation into SSA spooks who had infiltrated SARS in 2014, what might she have found? We know, in the aftermath of a plethora of commissions of inquiry into various aspects of State Capture, that the SSA was a seething, hot mess of unaccountable behaviour including the abuse of billions in public funds. The High-Level report released by the Presidency confirms this as well. So, what did Radebe investigate and what did she find? More importantly, did she overstep her mandate and investigate SARS? If so, why? And did Radebe investigate whether the action by SSA agents inside SARS was in fact illegal? We don't know at this stage as Radebe's report remains classified. For now, the question is why the Public Protector would seek to conceal the identity of the complainant to those it is subpoenaing in the Gordhan investigation while the EFF has admitted to doing so? In the meantime, tobacco boss Adriano Mazzotti, is under investigation by the SIU. Mazzotti, we know, happens to be Malema's landlord (and not, we hope, in the sense that underworld figure Glen Agliotti was called the Landlord) and the EFF leader has not denied their links. Mazzotti, director of Carnilinx, was one of the targets of SARS, before Moyane's clean up on behalf of former president Zuma. And then finally, bear in mind, Julius Malema has not yet quite finished his tango with an uncaptured SARS with regard to his own tax affairs. The dots in the State Capture matrix, while new dawn might be in sight, continue to reveal themselves as the extensive industrial clean-up inside the ANC and so many arms of government begins. The tangled web is so intricate and vast it will take time to reveal itself, but reveal itself it does, day by day. DM

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