SARS’s so-called rogue unit was not unlawful. That was the finding of retired judge Robert Nugent’s commission of inquiry last year. ‘While the National Strategic Intelligence Act prohibits the covert gathering of certain intelligence, that applies to intelligence concerning threats to the safety of the state, which hardly applies to intelligence relevant to collecting tax,’ reads Judge Nugent’s final report. The judge concludes: ‘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.’
But did Judge Nugent get it wrong? Weren’t the establishment and operations of the rogue unit specifically designed to counter the threat to the safety of the state from organised crime that was running riot and sapping countless billions of rands annually from the fiscus? And what were/are those ‘limits’ to what SARS may covertly do?
We examine the conundrum.