Ravele on SARS shortlist despite dodgy testimony


Van Loggerenberg’s boss in line to be commissioner.

One of the candidates on Trevor Manuel’s shortlist for the high profile vacancy of Commissioner of the South African Revenue Service is Gene Ravele, who as SARS’s former Enforcement chief was the immediate boss of Johann van Loggerenberg, head of the controversial High Risk Investigations Unit. An email exchange reveals their precarious relationship and Noseweek presents Ravele’s strange U-turn over the “rogue unit”.

Gene Ravele

Back in the dark days of apartheid, Gene Ravele, youthful member of the politico-military movement of the ANC, was in and out of detention. Finally in 1988, aged 18, he was detained without trial and held in solitary confinement for 272 days in Nylstroom Prison, where he was subjected to physical and psychological torture.

In 1992, when he was 23, Johann van Loggerenberg joined the apartheid police’s Republican Spy Programme. As agent RS 536, his was the dangerous double life of safe houses, false names, lies and betrayal.

For both men, the apartheid years took a heavy toll. Young Ravele emerged from prison suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and spent the better part of a year undergoing psychological treatment before he was able to enrol at university for a law degree, which he successfully completed in 1993.

Van Loggerenberg, who says he spent his police undercover years infiltrating organised crime syndicates, also emerged suffering from post traumatic stress. Post apartheid – first seconded to the National Intelligence Agency, then a spell in the Secret Service – his condition developed into social anxiety disorder, panic attacks and finally a 2010 diagnosis of bipolar 11. By 2014 he had clocked up 113 sessions with a counselling psychologist.

Both men joined SARS in 1998, just a year after the fledgling national tax agency came into being. Ravele arrived after responding to a Sunday newspaper advertisement for an assistant director: labour relations. “Contrary to public opinion, I was not a political ‘deployee’, neither was I brought to SARS by Pravin Gordhan,” he later maintained.

Johann van Loggerenberg

Van Loggerenberg was head-hunted by Ivan Pillay, a former senior member of Operation Vula in the ANC’s military wing Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), who was about to join SARS as general manager: Special Investigations. Pillay’s former Vula comrade Pravin Gordhan, a key figure in the ANC underground network and then deployed as SARS’s deputy commissioner, was determined to develop an intelligence capacity within SARS and Van Loggerenberg’s background met the required profile.

Gene Ravele joined Pillay’s Special Investigations in April 1999, as manager: anti-corruption investigations. As such the onetime teenage activist was Johann van Loggerenberg’s first manager. As assistant director in Special Investigations, Van Loggerenberg introduced the concept of intelligencedriven investigations, assembling a team of desk-bound analysts who produced reports identifying high risk areas.

In December 2002 Ravele was moved from Enforcement to be head of Internal Investigations and Security, and it was to be ten years before he moved back to Enforcement as Chief Officer: Enforcement Investigations in April 2012. By that time Van Loggerenberg was running the covert High Risk Unit, successor to the controversial National Research Group. Van Loggerenberg again reported to Gene Ravele.

The time bomb that was to devastate SARS burst, a bare two years later, in 2014. Van Loggerenberg took a girlfriend to a Pretoria East pub where he presented his lover Belinda Walter to his girlfriend as a source in the illicit tobacco sector. Furious at this slight, Walter stormed out to walk five kilometres home in the rain. And she went to the Sunday Times with her story of a rogue unit, headed by Van Loggerenberg, operating illegally within SARS.

Among the slough of investigations that followed, acting commissioner Pillay appointed an external panel headed by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane SC to probe allegations of impropriety against Van Loggerenberg. And a bare fortnight into his investigation, Tom Moyane arrived as new Commissioner of SARS.

In the tense days as Van Loggerenberg and Ravele waited to give testimony to Sikhakhane, there was a lengthy exchange of text messages between the two SARS men. Ravele was to sum it up in a confidential report he delivered to Moyane soon after in a desperate bid to save his job. “It is clearly evident from the above texts that JvL [Van Loggerenberg] was trying to manipulate, intimidate, threaten and blackmail me into submission,” wrote Ravele. “He also tried to instruct as what to say at the Sikhakhane panel.”

Some extracts from this email exchange:

From JvL, 20 October 2014, 9.40am: “Gene, you were the very first person I ever worked with at SARS and met you almost to the month 16 years ago. What I have discovered now has really disappointed me. You did not give effect to your duty of care to me throughout the BW [Belinda Walter] matter, nor certain officials under your care. You have been dishonest to the new Commissioner for SARS and I don’t understand why.

“You have accused me of breaking into your office… Subsequently you have now disavowed the High Risk Investigations Unit and claim you never knew anything about them. You lied, Gene. Those guys never did anything illegal and you know that. They used to drive by your house for months, night and day, to make sure you and your family were safe, at your own request. You ignored every cry for help from me to you when the Belinda investigation started. You just withdrew. You did not think it necessary to discuss anything with me then either. I am very upset and have been subjected to the most humiliating experience of my life. My office lock was changed and Security at the gate had a direct instruction to not allow me in.”

From GR [Gene Ravele], 20 October, 11.02 am: “For starters, new Commissioner has not asked me about the existence of the unit. All I said was that I took full responsibility for it and he then said he holds me accountable for the whole thing as CO [Chief Officer] involved. All these other things you’re saying are not true.”

From JvL, 20 October, 11.11am: “If you say so Gene. I know much more now than what you may realise at this stage. I will present affidavits, recordings, emails and texts from you. I have my own life and reputation to defend on my own now and I am focusing on that for now. We must all live with what life throws at us.”

From JvL, 20 October, 2.47pm: “Gene, I’m just sad and heartbroken. I think it would be good if you could meet the [HRIU] team. They are scared and unsure and need you now. They have done good work on, [Radovan] Krejcir, [Glenn] Agliotti and other crooks and they’ve been exposed now. They all want to do polygraphs based on the media articles. It’s not a bad idea.”

From JvL, 20 October, 3.37pm: “Gene, it’s a difficult time for all of us at SARS. For some more than others. I am trying very hard to focus on Belinda’s issues now and I cannot really think straight anymore. I am under terrible stress. My romantic choice has cost so much. My future is uncertain. I am isolated. I have been warning and warning this was coming. If it wasn’t Belinda it would have been something else. The SSA [State Security Agency] and Tisa [Tobacco Institute of Southern Africa] are very powerful lobby groups on their own. Put together they are mightier than anything in our country. Please meet the team in the meantime and just assure them. They need to hear what you are thinking from you. Not anyone else. You are the boss.”

From JvL, 21 October, 10.49am: “I am appearing before Sikhakhane on Friday. I am going to ask for a meeting with the new Commissioner. I have been hung out to dry for no reason.”

From JvL, 21 October, 11am: “The senior [SARS] leaders and in particular you, Gene, with your insight in the matters, should be in the forefront of managing this thing. But you are quiet. You are leaving things to a Commissioner who is new and won’t have insight. As you said yourself, PG [Pravin Gordhan] isn’t our Minister any more. You are leaving this for IP [Ivan Pillay] and Pete [Peter Richer] to deal with alone and they are not fully aware of the nuances.”

From JvL, 21 October, 11.04am: “The Hawks case is not just against me. It’s against IP and you too. The affidavits include BW, Peega, Mpinganjira and Piet Swart. The charges are relating to running an illegal covert unit. The investigating officer is a Colonel Herby Heap.”

From GR, 22 October, 3.16am: “Johann, I think I have reached the end of the road in SARS. I haven’t been sleeping at all, all I have been thinking about is all these things happening around me. Things are gonna get nasty. I now have to make a choice between SARS and my family! I’m tired of the veiled threats and blackmail from all and sundry. It feels like I’m being held to ransom by two warring forces. At this stage I don’t know what I’ll do when I leave SARS. I guess that’s the risk one has to take. My health and family should come first!!”

From JvL, 22 October, 9.13 am: “Hang in there! We all have enemies. You’re not alone. When are we meeting with IP? And Gene, if you are going to be dishonest at that meeting I’m leaving. I was at the [Sikhakhane] panel yesterday and they gave me hell. I’m not a ‘fall guy’. I refuse to disavow the legacy of PG and Ivan. I’m not scared at all. I’m at a point where it’s no longer about me. So you must now be the manager and make your back straight. We are under attack and you’ve been twiddling your thumbs while Rome was burning. Time to stand up and protect SARS and our higher purpose.”

“This has nothing to do with the PG and IP legacy! The reality of the matter is that we have a new minister [Nhlanhla Nene] and commissioner [Tom Moyane] who demand that things be done in a particular fashion. I cannot defy them. I didn’t defy Trevor [Manuel] and PG as I didn’t during the PG and Oupa [Magashula] time. I’m a career civil servant who has vowed to serve the government of the day and implement its policies and directives with no fear. J, none of my three girls are at varsity yet – in fact my youngest starts Grade 1 only next year. They are the centre of my universe – it is my responsibility to secure them a brighter future and no one else’s!

Trevor Manuel

“There is a strong tidal wave/current coming which presents me with three choices: swim along, or swim against, or step back and not swim at all. I have chosen the last option for the above stated reasons. If by choosing this option I’m seen by all people involved as a spineless, individualistic and selfish person, I will gladly accept that. However, if I continue to get veiled threats and blackmail aimed at forcing me to choose either side, I won’t stay in SARS. I will give SARS 24-hr notice. I’m not going to stay on and ‘fight’ as many people may suggest. When you fight in order to defend and preserve PG and IP’s legacy and the higher purpose (that continues to be intangible), who do you fight exactly? The new minister and commissioner? These are the questions in my head at the moment.”

From JvL, 26 October, 8.43 am: “As for the Sikhakhane panel and ‘Clifford’s panel’ [Clifford Collings, head of the Anti-Corruption and Security unit], both are looking at me on aspects that didn’t even concern BW’s complaint. It was just people seeking a reason to get rid of me. Since May I’ve been through absolute hell. People were happy to accept BW and Peega’s word and accusations. And then everyone jumped on the bandwagon to discredit IP. First about legal fees and then his retirement. You must do what you believe is right, Gene. I have always been loyal to you. To have read what you said about me broke my heart.”

From JvL, 26 October, 9.12am: “I did my best at all times for the higher purpose. But people queued up to tell Sikhakhane how bad I am. Nobody stood up for me. Nobody thought to go tell Sikhakhane what was really going on here. We just allowed everyone and anyone to go there and say whatever they wanted to as fact.”

From GR, 26 October, 9.31am: “I wouldn’t know who appeared before the panel. In fact, I’m only meeting them this coming Thursday in Sandton.”

From JvL, 26 October, 9.36am: “Gene, you are not alone under attack. We all are. You will survive this. It’s about all pulling together in a time of uncertainty and ensuring the Minister and Commissioner understand the dynamics at play. It’s not about you, IP or me. I’m glad if you are appearing, because hopefully you will be able to give context and perspective. Nobody else seems to have wanted to and they weren’t interested in what I had to say. They just kept on about IP and my relationship, Wachizungu [Van Loggerenberg’s charity] and how my relationship with the media was problematic.

“They had absolutely no interest in what the real issues were. Even they put to me as a fact that you did not know about the existence of the High Risk Investigations Unit. It’s a hatchet job of the worst I’ve ever seen. I can only hope that you get an opportunity to enlighten them because from where I’m sitting they’ve already decided.”

From JvL, 26 October, 9.48am: “And if anyone in SARS does have ‘spying equipment’ its Acas [Anti-Corruption and Security unit]. I’ve seen the BMW with the hidden cameras with my own eyes. I’ve seen the procurement lists for mini-cameras and recording devices that Acas purchased. I’ve seen with my own eyes the contract with Steve Whitehead which Denath signed and Acas didn’t follow the procurement rules. But that’s okay for SARS.”

'We just allowed everyone and anyone to go to Sikhakhane and say whatever they wanted to as fact

If Johann van Loggerenberg hoped that all this would yield some supportive testimony by Gene Ravele to the Sikhakhane panel, it is doubtful that this materialised. Sikhakhane heard from some 25 witnesses, but the verbatim detail of their testimony has been kept secret, with few aspects in the panel’s report attributed to specific people.

All we have to go on is para 77, which reads: “Mr Ravele indicated that he was kept in the dark until very recently about the existence of the NRG [National Research Group] and that he was only begrudgingly provided with scant information by Ms Langa at the instruction of Mr Van Loggerenberg after pestering both for such information as people who reported to him.”

However, 19 days after his October 30 testimony to Sikhakhane, Ravele delivered a confidential report to Commissioner Moyane. In it he complained that in the two years since he returned to head Enforcement in April 2012 he had only received two reports from Van Loggerenberg outlining the activities of the High Risk Investigations Units [HRIU].

Ravele added: “I have also made the Minister of Finance [Nhlanhla Nene] aware of the HRIU’s existence, albeit unofficially. After his appointment the minister requested me to assist him with identifying the Organisational Risks that needed to be mitigated as well as the gaps that needed to be closed. The existence of the clandestine intelligence capability was one of the Organisational Risks I identified.

“I also briefed the minister about the JvL matter before it got to the media as I felt that he could not be kept in the dark.”

Readers will recall the revelation in our last issue of the lessthan- flattering picture of Van Loggerenberg and his unit that Ravele also gave in his secret testimony to the Inspector-General of Intelligence just weeks before the above email exchange. Ravele told the IGI that when Van Loggerenberg joined SARS Ivan Pillay instructed that he should work with “covert structures” that would “cripple NIA [National Intelligence Agency] and the SASS [Secret Service]”. Ravele added that Pillay was now protecting Van Loggerenberg, who had leaked information to the media, including allegations against the SSA [State Security Agency].

But Ravele’s attempt to find favour with Moyane could not save him. An internal charge sheet accused him of a host of wrongdoings: that he had sanctioned or approved the conducting of unlawful covert and or clandestine intelligence-gathering in SARS; negotiated the transfer and accepted delivery of “serious military surveillance equipment from the US Customs Border Protection”; and committed fraud and corruption in accepting an unauthorised R10,000 gift from a sequestrated taxpayer of a weekend at Sun City under a false name.

Before the charges could be heard Ravele resigned in May 2015. And, after a two-year investigation by the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority declined to prosecute a criminal case. All charges against him were dropped for lack of evidence.

In view of Ravele’s earlier testimonies, it is noteworthy that when he gave evidence before the Nugent Commission into governance at SARS last June, the would-be Commissioner made a remarkable u-turn. The HRIU was lawful and to suggest that the unit had conducted illegal surveillance using high-tech equipment was “hogwash”, Ravele declared.

He praised the disbanded unit, saying it had been crucial to SARS operations as it helped bust a number of criminal activities.

• And this man would be our new SARS Commissioner? Better he applied to the weather bureau for a post as a wind vane to show which way the wind is blowing.Ed.


 

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