Rogue unit WhatsApps that clinch it

Yes, it’s true, SARS did have a covert rogue unit. For years – unchecked and its existence officially denied – a group of high-tech specialists and former state spooks tapped phones and intercepted communications in flagrant defiance of the law. And here’s the proof.

The evidence comes in the free-flowing words of its main denialist, Johann van Loggerenberg, leader of SARS’s infamous High Risk Investigation Unit.

Johann van Loggerenberg

Noseweek has had access to the contents of an 800-page secret dossier held by the Hawks consisting of WhatsApp messages between Van Loggerenberg and his former lover, Pretoria attorney Belinda Walter.

Former police undercover agent Van Loggerenberg confirms his unit’s shady and illegal activities in text messages to Walter. Walter handed the dossier to the Hawks, who mirrored all Walter’s devices to authenticate the dossier.

For years the mainstream media has pumped out the denials and lies of Van Loggerenberg and his gang of former spooks, all long-trained in the art of lies and deception. Their latest dupe was retired Judge Robert Nugent, whose commission of inquiry last year concluded: “Why such a unit was considered to be unlawful is not clear to me.”

However, the retired judge, now in his seventies, had the grace to add the caveat: “The documentary evidence on the activities of the rogue unit is as presently advised thoroughly unsatisfactory. All we really have are the ‘dashboard’ reports that were made by the unit from time to time to SARS top management.”

Belinda Walter

Van Loggerenberg, 50, along with former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay, 64, and Janse “Skollie” van Rensburg currently face unconnected charges of illegally bugging the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority in 2007. The case is set to resume in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on 12 June.

Noseweek’s edited selection of the Van Loggerenberg-Walter WhatsApp text messages covers a later period, 2013 and 2014. The SARS unit involved in the alleged NPA bugging case, the National Research Group, had been long disbanded – only to be reborn as the High Risk Investigation Unit under the leadership of Van Loggerenberg. Among its high-profile targets was the flourishing illicit tobacco industry.

Conducting their own parallel investigation was the State Security Agency (SSA) which had persuaded Pretoria attorney Belinda Walter to go undercover and bring the tobacco companies together into the  Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association, which she chaired.

Carnilinx’s sick puppy

Timed 4.34pm, 18 November 2013.
JvL (Johann van Loggerenberg):
“Busy going through Phillips data. [Kyle Phillips of Carnilinx tobacco company]: Eish, sick puppy.
BW (Belinda Walter): Lol! You didn’t need the data to tell you that?
JvL: ISS+Varejes=SSG [gossip about links between attorney Ian Small Smith, Richmark’s Gavin Varejes and Warren Goldblatt’s then-named Specialised Services Group].
BW: Oi. Ok. I didn’t know that. So they could just as easily be intercepting all my crap?
JvL: Yup. But theyre not. Yet!
BW: Pissed at me?
JvL: I’m glad you decided to withdraw from them [the Carnilinx directors]. The more I read the more I realise. Nasty pieces of work.
BW: Are they planning anything I should know about?
JvL: No not pissed. Too worried about own asses.
BW: Ok. Has ISS [Small Smith] not tried to swing that leaks will be [from] me?
JvL: No. Move on.
BW: I have. I have a natural curiosity and I have the FITA [ Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association] meeting on Wednesday so I don’t want any nasty surprises.
JvL: They’ll be super nice on Wednesday and try to make you feel guilty!
BW: Is that what they are saying?
JvL: Reading through emails. Boring. Cross-eyed already.

Belinda: angry to discover Van Loggerenberg had been bugging her

Timed 12.08 am, 19 November 2013.
JvL: Now you can argue with me, you can hurt me with things you say like now, you can think you will deal with things in your own way – but on this one you are wrong. So for once you must listen. This isnt about me dealing with it or who you are. I sit at the helm of this and know exactly how this whole thing is going to unfold and play out. Nothing is out of control on my end. And I am really not uptight at all. The only thing that did upset me was your suggestion that I broke the law. And I was comfortable in expressing that to you.
BW: If I’d known I was in the bubble or on candid camera – who knows. I did not say you broke the law. I said you disregarded laws that were designed to provide me with privacy and dignity. You have your reasons etc – it doesn’t feel any different from where I am standing.
JvL: My projects are run by trusted and few people. None are voyeurs or perverts. They are professional in what they do. They are not “everybody at SARS”.
BW: Yes, I understand that. But then society’s interests overrides that of individuals who fail to consider society’s interests. I cant have this debate with you. You know how things work. You just never considered the consequences. Im not going to try and justify what and why we do what we do. Our job is difficult enough as it is.
JvL: Okay. Whats the position. Make up your mind. This is kiling me slowly. Are you with me 100%?
BW: I know I’m madly in love with you. I know you’re the love of my life. I know I’m committed to you 100%. But tonight I don’t have to like what you said or your lectures or how I feel about a million things.
JvL: You dont have to like it yes. In fact nobody will be expected to like it if they were in the same position. Its not something I like either. Its not a good thing. But you know what? You roll up your sleeves, you buckle down and deal with things and dispense with them. Like many other things in life that are also not very likeable.

Faizal wasn’t careful on the lines

Timed 4.01pm, 20 November 2013.
JvL: All quiet. Word’s gone out we are onto Mo $ [‘Mo Dollars’, alias for a high volume money-mover] so some people worried even more now.
BW: Oh. Lol. Simon R [Simon Rudland, Gold Leaf Tobacco Company] should be worrying. And Zunaid M [Moti].
JvL: Yup. And Faizal and co [Faizal Hattia, Yusuf Kajee’s partner in Delta Tobacco].  He has no clue.  He wasnt careful on the lines. Stupid.

The HRIU listener ladies

Timed 3.52 pm, 21 November 2013.
JvL: My watcher and listener ladies dont waste time to draft reports for me on personal stuff. I have not seen anything or heard anything of personal nature of anyone involved. Nada. They know it and I insist on that. Their contracts state that very clearly. So I cant form an opinion and dont want to. Its irrelevant to me. Relax. I wanted to make you smile, not make war. Join me in being a pacifist. Life is so much more joyful then.

Everything electronic leaves footprints

Timed 2.21pm, 22 November 2013.
JvL: By the way. dont believe story that Facebook messages cannot be intercepted. Everything electronic leaves footprints. !
BW: I don’t use FB for messages.
JvL: They will suggest that in future.
BW: They can’t be my FB friends.
JvL: I think FSS [investigators Forensic Security Services] is aware of my capabilities. So they will share this. Their counter-espionage guys in UK are good.

HN and C are tap-dancing

Timed 4.55pm, 28 November 2013:
JvL: HN [Hennie Niemann of Crime Intelligence] and C [Chris Burger of SSA] tap-dancing hectic. They even went to NPA to try to limit scope of case. I let them. I want service providers to internally investigate and find who gave info to AG [Andre Grundling, a private investigator hired by Carnilinx to monitor SSA’s Tobacco Task Team]. Im playing dumb on that case. I just hope they dont fuck it up like everything else.
BW: C wouldn’t do anything for me on his own. HN has integrity.
JvL: I know too. But I dont want to give them our tapes and stuff. It will complicate the case. Id prefer the service providers do it themselves. Its easy to id who accessed what numbers on what dates. We have done it before.

Dead in the water

Timed 10.18pm 28 November 2013:
JvL: Chottia [Y Chotia of Tobacco Boyz] and Shana [his son] have turned. Carni [Carnilinx] dead in the water now! We are pulling their and ATM’s [Amalgamated Tobacco Manufacturers] warehouse licences and import/export licences next week. Its pretty much game over for them. All very desperate. Nobody wants to go to jail. And theyve invested a bit in PE which they know they will lose now. And their cash as good as gone. It has affected them badly. Everybody blaming each other. A lot of ‘I told you so’s’.
They didnt think SARS would be the ones coming. They were thinking FSS [private investigators Forensic Security Services] and police all the time. They thought their SARS problem was restricted to Kumaren and Lizette [SARS Enforcement]. They never considered there were other people behind the scenes who were looking at the bigger picture.
BW: Do they realize that yet?
JvL: They broke our camera today. As if we were only going to use one. Kyle [Carnilinx’s Kyle Phillips] has plans on going it alone. He’s not as clever as you thought. I’ve gone through some of the older stuff. His ego very big. It makes him careless and impulsive. Arrogant.

Carnilinx director Adriano Mazzotti was shell-shocked

Timed 3.35pm, 5 December 2013.
JVL: He [Mazzotti] came in, all cocky. But I cut him to size immediately. He was shaking like a leaf throughout. He didnt play any card. He was shell-shocked. I mentioned a few things only he would have been aware of, and that made him shit himself. He knows now that I know everything. He doesnt know what to do now.
BW: Did he even try say anything about us or ISS?
JvL: No. He didnt have to. He knows now that we had surveillance. For all his bravado, he was just so weak. His plan was to try to suggest you were part of things. But the penny dropped for him when I mentioned a few things only he would have known. So his whole strategy fell apart. He was really in a state.

On 31 January 2014 the lovers fought over Van Loggerenberg’s philandering. In retaliation Walter revealed their relationship and her links with the SSA to the Carnilinx directors and Sunday Times’s Malcolm Rees. Van Loggerenberg persuaded her to retract her statements and they made up.

Timed 7.38pm, 3 February 2014.
BW: Are you going to call later?
JvL: Sure. But we must be careful of phones now, okay? Not everything is in my hands any more.

Van Loggerenberg after being questioned by a SARS panel about taxpayer confidentiality

Timed 3.18pm, 13 February 2014.
JvL: It’s tough. I feel tired.
BW: Can you speak?
JvL: Yes, rather avoid tobacco.
BW: I’m so worried about you.
JvL: Not on phone anymore okay. Not safe and things can so easily be misunderstood. So I’m under a bit of pressure and stress now and you need to understand and accept that.

Belinda: still angry at being bugged

Timed 9.36 am, 16 April 2014.
BW: I’m tired of you thinking you know me and judging me because you are intruding on my personal life with your interception. You don’t know everything and you obviously don’t know me very well at all…
JvL: Its okay to be angry. I understand.
BW: No. Sadly you don’t. You don’t have a clue. And I dont think you want me spelling it out while under interception order.
JvL: I really dont wish to respond to that. I will just repeat myself. And please dont discuss my mental wellbeing with other people. The fact that I took you into my confidence within a private relationship about matters I consider private is maybe not something you consider private, but that being the case – please be decent about something you clearly have no idea about.
BW: That’s such an insult... And if you and your interception centre stick to my constitutional rights regarding privacy of private communications then you have no need to worry about who I speak to about anything.

• The couple’s romance ended in May 2014.


Chief watcher -- Erich Neethling, former Lieutenant Commander in military intelligence and head of surveillance in the SARS High Risk Investigation Unit, pictured at the Pretoria Country Club's Captain's Dinner in 2017. At the exclusive club Neethling would regale members with derring-do stories about the HRIU after a few drinks in the bar.

A mention of the gung ho watcher in the WhatsApps:

Timed 6.10pm, 12 March 2014.
JvL: Poor Erich working late for stuff I need tomorrow morning.
BW: Won’t kill him.
JvL: Thats what I thought too! And Kums wants to start bringing booze to work!

‘I lived triple lives for many many years’

In a series of WhatsApps in November 2013 and February 2014, Johann van Loggerenberg told Belinda Walter about his life as a deep-cover spy.
JvL: I was a spy for many years. Im a trained observer and analyst!
BW: In your 12 yrs away – did you have a family? Wife, kids or someone special you felt sorry to leave behind. Until today – I did not grasp the level what you had done.
JvL: You are my Love. You dont need to ask whether you can ask a question. Just ask. ! No. In my 12 years away I was alone. I had nobody. Just 3 handlers over time. We had contact once every 6 months roughly. 1 gave up on me, he couldnt keep up. And 1 psychologist who saw me once every 12 months for a day. No wife, no kids, no girlfriend. Many friends, but they didnt know the real Johann. They knew the person I pretended to be. And some business partners. Also not as Johann. I can write a dissertation on isolation stress and Im sure I will get 100%!
Our debriefings took place over a week usually. The rest of the time I used DLB’s [dead letter boxes] to communicate and so did they. Two teams of surveillance people worked on me all the time and I had my own equipment for video and audio.
BW: I trust you. I believe you.
JvL: I was deployed on 26 projects over time. Some overlapped. Some in SA, some in EU and some in South America. I operated from Durban, Jhb and Cape Town. I was terribly alone. But over time became used to it... Its been over for a long time. There were 3 of us that were that deep for so long. One committed suicide, one died of drug overdose and I was the lucky one who managed to see it through and move on…

Young police spy Van Loggerenberg

Oom Pot [how Van Loggerenberg described his handler] used to say to me that for this game people are born. You cant teach someone the trade... I understand the game and what happens to people very well. I lived triple lives for many many years. Complicated scenarios that you wont even be able to begin to imagine.  Trust me. We were terribly imaginative and had very novel ideas. But they were complex and asked for a lot.

I had a knack for it. I immediately understood the immense power that came with it and how whatever I did, could potentially undo any good I was trying to do, if any of it became public. It was a golden rule to never do anything to compromise our integrity... We always accepted the risk was there that I would be blown and then would have to own up to everything.

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