New leaked emails shed light on SARS rogue unit and its allies.
Documents leaked to Noseweek reveal that when Skollie van Rensburg of the SA Revenue Service's so-called rogue unit gave testimony to the Sikhakhane panel, he was shaken at the extent of the panel's knowledge about the controversial unit.
Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane was appointed by SARS's then acting Commissioner Ivan Pillay in 2014 to investigate allegations of impropriety against Johann van Loggerenberg by his former lover, Pretoria attorney and SSA (State Security Agency) agent Belinda Walter.
|Van Loggerenberg as a youthful undercover agent|
Van Loggerenberg was the top SARS investigator and former Secret Service spook who took over leadership of the now infamous rogue unit after Van Rensburg departed in March 2008 with a R3 million pay-off to keep his mouth shut.
These three - "Skollie" (Andries Janse van Rensburg), Johann van Loggerenberg and Ivan Pillay - face criminal charges over the alleged 2007 bugging of the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority to monitor the progress of the corruption case against former police commissioner Jackie Selebi. The case continues in the North Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, on 14 February.
According to documents in the possession of Noseweek, after his appearance before the Sikhakhane panel, Skollie van Rensburg reported back on the encounter to Van Loggerenberg's close colleague at SARS, Adrian Lackay, the Revenue's official spokesperson.
"They showed me quite a lot of official documents," Van Rensburg told Lackay in a 9 October 2014 email. "They have all the salary documents pertaining to the unit… Also email correspondence between members of the unit… Minutes of meetings from the unit… List of names and equipment booked to them.
"My biggest concern is that they have my contract signed 12 October 2004 and the contract between myself and SARS when I left the organisation.
"They have several operational documents. One is an original from the NIA (National Intelligence Agency) provincial office signed by Patrick Manana, where an investigation was done on the team. It refers to me as the head, and that the team were involved in covert intrusions and several surveillance operations. All done under a covert structure.
"They apparently have all the WhatsApp messages between Johann (Van Loggerenberg) and Belinda (Walter). According to them, in these messages Johann referred to himself [as] being the head of a covert unit and also mentioned surveillance detail on specific targets.
"I denied any covert structure, as I was paid by SARS and my travel arrangements were done by SARS. I denied any surveillance operations or any illegal operations."
The reason Van Rensburg was so concerned Sikhakhane had his employment contracts, including the one when he left SARS, was doubtless because the first contract revealed the controversial nature of his employment, while his termination contract detailed the R3m severance payment negotiated with Pillay, allegedly made to ensure his silence after he allegedly threatened to blow the whistle on the activities of the rogue unit, then called the National Research Group [see box below].
Eight days after receiving Van Rensburg's jittery note, Adrian Lackay emailed, surprisingly, Trevor Manuel, the former finance minister with more bad news. [Manuel had left government service only days earlier to start a new job as senior adviser to the Rothschild financial advisory services group.]
"For your information, we are heading for another fight with the Sunday Times this weekend," read Lackay's 17 October email. "Someone leaked a very confidential and restricted document to them: Ivan's (Ivan Pillay) employment contract signed by PG (Pravin Gordhan) earlier this year, and Ivan's previous request for retirement and his GEPF (Government Employees Pension Fund) benefits.
"They are even going to the extent of asking about Ivan's matric qualifications. Apart from attacking SARS, it is clear Ivan and PG are the targets of whomever is pushing this nefarious agenda."
This was another hot potato. When he was finance minister Gordhan had approved Pillay's early retirement and re-hiring as deputy commissioner on a fixed-term contract - a procedure that raised some eyebrows. Pillay received a lump sum of R2.5m after tax and a pension of R59,672/month when he took early retirement at 56 on 31 December 2010. Thirty-eight days later he was retained as Deputy Commissioner on a five- year contract at R1.989m/year (R100,210/month after tax).
That same evening Manuel responded. "This is so lousy. You guys [presumably SARS and the Sunday Times] should have a mediated discussion. At the same time, Ivan should be able to work out who's driving this agenda. I have my own ideas on this one. I bumped into PG in the week and offered the same advice to him. I remain convinced that this is the way to deal with the problem. It will not self-correct and there are people with another agenda. For next week, I may be the target of the same group. It's how they roll.
"Try by all means to reach out to Phylicia (Oppelt - the then Sunday Times editor) by first thing tomorrow. Take the fight to her. Ask her to explain why, since the Pallo Jordan story, they've become a tabloid in the hands of those who, in the words of Oliver Tambo ‘go from ear to ear with a bag full of wedges, intent on sowing division'."
It was to Trevor Manuel, then finance minister, that Pravin Gordhan, then SARS Commissioner, had addressed a memo on 12 February 2007, seeking and receiving approval for funding of an intelligence capability within the NIA in support of SARS.
"It is clear that SARS sought to establish within the NIA a unit for the collection of tactical intelligence, which implies ‘penetrating and intercepting' organised crime syndicates," Advocate Sikhakhane later noted in his report.
"At this stage SARS correctly realised that it had no statutory authority to collect intelligence. It seems from the memorandum that Mr Gordhan had an undertaking from NIA that it was willing to accommodate such a unit. It follows, even in SARS's own version, that unless NIA co-operated, the establishment of such a unit would be an illegality."
In the event, the NIA declined to take a SARS investigative unit under its wing. So SARS went ahead on its own - provoking what was to become a vicious turf war between the regular intelligence agencies and the usurping unregulated newcomer. The SARS unit, as Sikhakhane observed, was comprised "in the main by recruits from the intelligence community whose existence was not known by the majority of SARS officials".
"The evidence revealed a narrative rarely exposed to the public about our revenue service," said Sikhakhane. "It exposed minority activity of idiosyncratic and egocentric personalities, deception, intrigue and plain falsity. It was, as the evidence will show, a product of an ill-conceived idea to deal with a real challenge of organised crime."
Some believe that Trevor Manuel had the wool pulled over his eyes when he approved the establishment of a joint SARS/NIA operation. But Noseweek's revelation of Manuel's communication with Adrian Lackay shows that the former minister was being kept very much in the loop all along. Question is, what line will Manuel take in the forthcoming rogue unit trial, where he has been lined up as a witness for the State?
From within the SARS High Risk Unit, Johann van Loggerenberg cultivated a coterie of journalists to whom he gave some memorable scoops - scoops that very much served his own agendas.
When his love affair with Belinda Walter ended he was not slow to leak devastating information about her to Jacques Pauw, then with City Press. Pauw's hatchet job ran: "Beneath Belinda Walter's glitzy life lurked the Mata Hari of the cloak-and-dagger world of spying; a woman who allegedly used her sexual prowess to infiltrate, watch, record and discredit her targets."
But there's no such thing as a free lunch and Pauw was called upon to return the favour.
Noseweek's file of leaked emails includes one that SARS press spokesperson Adrian Lackay sent to then new commissioner Tom Moyane on 6 November 2014. Lackay wrote that he had received a call from City Press journalist Caiphus Kgosana, who was "convinced, based on information or ‘evidence' presented to him, that SARS has/had a ‘secret' unit that ‘spied' on people." Secret front companies, agents operating off the SARS books etc…
Lackay explained to Moyane how important it was that City Press should not rush to press on "concocted evidence", but wait for Sikhakhane's report that was about to be presented to SARS. However, said Lackay, "the journalist seems intent on running something this weekend."
He continued: "We (he and Caiphus Kgosana) are scheduled to meet again tomorrow to try and resolve this stalemate. Unlike the Sunday Times, City Press has proven to be more insightful and circumspect in its reporting around SARS. We hope to further engage their senior editors to either prevent sensationalist reporting or to ensure proper balanced and fair reporting. Please let me know if you think we should proceed in a different way with the journalist or newspaper."
Lackay contacted Jacques Pauw, who told him: "I'm going to send Nicki Gules (City Press's assistant editor) an email. This is just bullshit and City Press ought to know better. I have an agreement with Ferial (editor Ferial Haffajee) that I can still write for City Press, so if you are looking for ‘help' - for example with the Sikhakhane report - let me know. Give me the findings of the report. That could counter what others are trying to achieve."
The same day Pauw emailed Nicki Gules (copy to editor Ferial Haffajee) saying he understood that Caiphus Kgosana was working on a SARS story. He didn't want to interfere but "I want to urge you to be careful about these kind of stories floating around at the moment… I believe they are all part of an orchestrated campaign against SARS and much of it emanates from the Special Operations Unit (SOU) at the SSA (State Security Agency).
"The Sunday Times published a similar story two weeks ago and their source was Peega - a former SARS investigator that was fired for rhino poaching. Guess who he works for now? The SOU at SSA!"
Pauw's email continued: "We will exclusively get the results of Sikhakhane's enquiry with all the affidavits from everyone within the next few days (it is apparently very explosive), but we cannot let ourselves be used for a campaign against SARS. I will gladly do the Sikhakhane story for City Press, or pass them on to you for someone else to do."
Caiphus Kgosana was reined in and within hours a grateful Adrian Lackay was emailing Jacques Pauw thanking him "for the intervention".
"They agreed to hold off on publishing until Adv Sikhakhane's report is made public," wrote Lackay. "In turn we gave them full access to the file of our submissions to the panel, including Johann's affidavit (Van Loggerenberg). I also encouraged them to work with you on the matter on which you have written extensively and to try and get the documents to you. If that doesn't work I will have to mail it to you."
Lackay, Pillay and Van Loggerenberg had been confident that Sikhakhane would clear SARS and its controversial unit of any wrongdoing. They got a rude shock when they received his report. It seems that Van Loggerenberg's legal team (Nico Maritz SC and attorney Wim Cilliers) had shared their optimism. In her testimony, Belinda Walter told the panel that Maritz had advised her that Sikhakhane would find in favour of Van Loggerenberg and he asked her to stop her litigation against him.
When the panel put this to Maritz, the senior counsel advocate assured them that there had been "a misunderstanding in his communication with Ms Walter during their attempt to settle their litigation".
Says the Sikhakhane report: "Mr Maritz told the panel he had simply indicated that he knew the members of the panel as advocates he respected and was confident that they would come to the correct outcome," reads Sikhakhane's report. "As our colleague, we accepted his bone fides in this regard and put the matter to rest."
Within the rogue unit there was no mercy for the subjects of its investigations. Sikhakhane's report includes WhatsApp messages that Van Loggerenberg sent to his lover Belinda Walter that well illustrate the unit leader's style. Reads one: "When we start shutting them down it will be chaos. When the tax inquiries start and we start calling their wives, life won't be funny anymore."
Another, sensationally, read: "We are running [phone-tapping] plenty lines. More lines mean more data to sift... Their lines are super-hot… My watcher and listener ladies are well trained and don't waste time to draft reports for me on the personal stuff - they only report on business."
Sikhakhane observes: "This damning confirmation of the existence of interception capacity by the unit is nonchalantly dismissed by Mr Van Loggerenberg as statements made in jest…"
Following Noseweek's story "Spooks Galore" in (nose230), Jacques Pauw has embarked on his usual it's-all-lies tirade on Twitter. "Lamentable journalism," he tweeted. "Impossible that Johann v Loggerenberg could have been an apartheid spy. In 1990, when the ANC was unbanned, he was only 19 or 20 years old!"
Johannes Hendrikus van Loggerenberg was born on 12 February 1969, making him 50 next month. When apartheid ended on 27 April 1994 and Nelson Mandela became president the following month, he was 25. From the age of 18 he had seven years of formative adulthood under apartheid.
Six years ago psychologist Elaine Bing wrote a book about the experiences of three white policemen who tortured and killed in the apartheid years, called The Unmaking of the Torturer - or more graphically in the Afrikaans edition, Ek het Gemartel (I have Tortured). Under the pen name Wachizungu Sawa Sawa - the charity he founded that same year, 2013 - Johann van Loggerenberg wrote a foreword to the book, describing how during national service "as an 18-yearold boy I was faced with terrible scenes and situations that nobody should ever have had to deal with at that age".
His foreword told of the panic attacks and post-traumatic disorder that followed him into his 30s and 40s (at one stage he was admitted to Denmar private psychiatric hospital in Pretoria). And he wrote how after 1994 "I met many people who were part of the ‘enemy' but who took me in and gave me chances in life to participate in the task of rebuilding our country."
As for Pauw's repeated insistence that Van Loggerenberg was never an apartheid spy, consider the latter's testimony to Sikhakhane. "Mr Van Loggerenberg describes himself as having been an undercover agent of the South African Police during apartheid South Africa," states the Sikhakhane report. "He told the panel that prior to joining SARS he was a member of what was known as the Republican Spy Programme. He also told the panel that although the Republican Spy Programme was used in the political context, he focused more on criminal investigations.
Sikhakhane adds: "We were also told by another witness that the Republican Spy Programme or Republican Security was one of apartheid South Africa's most effective operations to infiltrate apartheid's political opponents, in the form of liberation movements. It recruited from universities and institutions of learning, targeting what apartheid security apparatus saw as bright stars who could be easily trained to operate under-cover in unique political environments of liberation movements."
A former close friend sheds fresh light on that aspect of Van Loggerenberg's Republican Spy Programme duties. "Johann spoke about being deployed in Natal - Durban and Pietermaritzburg - and he had to work the universities. He was chosen because he was young and blended in. He spoke about selling mandrax as part of the projects. He also spoke about his friend on the RS Programme who committed suicide, whose body he found.
"I generally feel very sorry for Johann. His world is dark and he is ‘stuck in the moment' of what he once was."
The new SAPS was founded in 1995 and Van Loggerenberg, identified only as Agent RS536, was quick to shine. "It gives me great pleasure in extending my appreciation to RS536 for his outstanding performance as an undercover agent in Operation Kalashnikov, Boomerang Leg," reads his commendation the following year from Assistant Commissioner FC Truter. The detective chief added: "It is reassuring to note than even in today's trying time, there are still members prepared to sacrifice time and effort in order to provide a professional service."
Van Loggerenberg was seconded to the NIA to assist on specific investigations. He did this until he was approached by the South African Secret Service and it was during his time at the SASS that he met Pillay.
If Van Loggerenberg presented a hazy account to Sikhakhane about his police service during apartheid,
factual accuracy isn't one of Jacques Pauw's strong points either. Back in 2014 Pauw wrote a story in City Press implicating an SOU (Special Operations Unit) agent, a colourful Serb named George Darmanovich, in ending the careers of Johann van Loggerenberg and the SARS rogue unit. It took three years for Pauw to apologise, finally admitting it was not the SOU but the Economic Intelligence Unit that was responsible.
"I was fed wrong information. It was so convincing that I believed it," he emailed Darmanovich in March 2017. "I believed that you were personally involved in the whole mess. I was played, played very, very convincingly."
Despite this, when Pauw's book The President's Keepers was launched eight months later, Darmanovich told the Sunday Independent that Pauw had repeated the lies in his book. He found it strange that after writing an apology to him, Pauw could "carry on and write the same lies for which he apologised," reported editor Steven Motale.
Darmanovich announced he was taking legal action against Pauw, who he described as "a serial liar".
In his book Pauw describes the Serb as a "glitzy character who operated from a safe house and drove fast cars with boots full of guns, cash and police dockets. However, he became a liability to the SSA. A contract worker should never reveal his/her connection to the agency. This was where Darmanovich failed miserably: he couldn't keep a secret."
There will, however, be no courtroom compensation for Darmanovich for Pauw's "lies". In a contract hit on a Sunday last May in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, two men on a motorcycle gunned down the extrovert spook with two shots to the head. He died that afternoon in hospital.
• Johann van Loggerenberg has placed on record: "I dispute the content of the Sikhakhane panel report and Kroon Advisory Board statement in their entirety. The Sikhakhane panel report is overall flawed in fact and law."
'We were emphatically told that SARS had never had a covert unit, until...'
For years SARS denied the existence of a rogue unit. “SARS has never had a covert intelligence unit and has never bugged any telephones,” ran the perennial response of former spokesperson Adrian Lackay to media enquiries.
So it’s revealing to read the minutes of an early meeting of the unit on 24 May 2007, when it was referred to as the Special Projects Unit. Attended by Ian Pillay, Rita Hayes (a former SARS general manager) and Janse “Skollie” van Rensburg, the meeting was to define the unit’s mandate, focus areas, targeting systems, roles and responsibilities. The mandate they decided on: to “Collect covert intelligence”.
Johann van Loggerenberg claims to this day that he wasn’t involved until he took over as unit leader the following year, in the aftermath of the alleged May-July 2007 bugging of the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority in Operation Sunday Evenings. Those 24 May 2007 minutes, however, precisely define Van Loggerenberg’s unit role from the start: “Van Loggerenberg was supposed to work closely with the unit, but it was to remain an entity in its own right. He was not to be regarded as the line manager and did not sign approvals. Instead Van Loggerenberg would advise Pillay, but would not give Janse van Rensburg orders. And Pillay remained the manager of the unit.”
Skollie van Rensburg (salary R950,000/year), left SARS at the end of March 2008. Eleven days later Johann van Loggerenberg attended his first meeting as the now-named National Research Group’s manager at the “Brooklyn Guest House”. In the minutes of these unit meetings, Van Loggerenberg spelt out the rules of play. Such as:
- "Approval of operations lies between Ivan Pillay and Johann van Loggerenberg. Without approval from them operation is unauthorised."
- "According to the law, SARS cannot collect covert intelligence. Everything we do must be in accordance to the Constitution and must be legal. If you do not know, then don’t do it."
- "Contact with Skollie must be broken completely. If he makes contact then it must be reported in writing via unit leader Pillay." And so on.
However, in the Rules of Play document it is also recorded, upfront, under the heading Status of Group, that:
- "Group is not known; cost centre is not known. Until further notice that will be the case " and
- "We will be tasked by the client to establish something in his investigation that cannot be established through the normal channels" and, sarcastically,
- "If you want to liaise with the SAPS, NIA, SASS, DSO etc, then you can ask for a transfer to the SARS unit tasked with liaison. Interaction with other government departments is out and not authorised."
In a subsequent discussion with group members it is recorded that "JvL explained that the Rules of Play was done to protect the unit and its members from being known within and outside of SARS. Formal covers will not be created but members should rather focus on creative means to keep their existence unknown."
It emerges from the discussion that there was controversy about the contracts that were concluded with people originally recruited to the group: "JM expressed concern... as SARS wants to honour the contracts given to members coming from external companies but does not want to do the same for members with previous SARS contracts.
"JM explained that all SPU members were appointed through the same process and the fact that some are on CBCU structures while others were not moved from their previousSARS [structures] is an administrative oversight and does not mean that the contracts they have received for appointment to CBCU is ‘null and void’."
Around August 2009 the NRG was formally "disbanded", although half a dozen members were retained to continue operations under Van Loggerenberg and a new name, the High Risk Investigation Unit.
Sihakhane found that the establishment of the unit under both names was unlawful. There was prima facie evidence that it "may have abused its power and resources by engaging in activities that reside in other agencies of Government, and which it had no lawful authority to perform".
Under Skollie van Rensburg, the NRG "appears to have had carte blanche to regulate its activities," said Sikhakhane. "The covert unit operated outside the traditional SARS environment, printed fake SARS cards, bugged, tracked vehicles, conducted surveillance of individuals and disguised themselves as drivers to certain political figures [one being Julius Malema]. This was regarded as unlawful and outside the SARS mandate by some members of the unit."
SARS, declared Sikhakhane, was not responsible for crime intelligence or covert intelligence gathering. "The provisions of the National Strategic Intelligence Act 39 of 1994 regulates the functioning of intelligence structures in South Africa and prohibits the conducting of covert intelligence gathering by structures other than the National Defence Force, the SAPS or the State Security Agency."
"The establishment of the unit without having the requisite statutory authority was indeed unlawful," Sikhakhane concluded. "There is prima facie evidence that the existence of this unit had the real possibility of undermining the work of those agencies tasked with the investigation of organised crime and the collection of intelligence.
"There appear to be serious concerns about whether settlements concluded with taxpayers who were the subject of [illegal] investigation, were validly and properly concluded."
A different view is taken by retired Judge Nugent, whose commission of inquiry into tax administration and governance by SARS finds that the National Strategic Intelligence Act only prohibits the covert gathering of intelligence concerning threats to the safety of the state. “I see no reason why SARS was and is not entitled to establish and operate a unit to gather intelligence on the illicit trades, even covertly, within limits,” reads his final report.
This interpretation of the act had previously been considered by SARS when the controversial intelligence unit was formed in 2007. It was rejected then by Ivan Pillay, who described it as “a leap in the logic without proper foundation.” And the KPMG report agreed, stating “the interpretation is misplaced and does not address the provisions of the Interception of Communications Act.”
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