FINANCE Minister Pravin Gordhan has made public all correspondence between the Hawks and his attorneys, in which the unit said he was not a suspect and had nothing to fear.
The correspondence from the Hawks in May, signed by Hawks head Berning Ntlemeza, also assured the minister that the unit would “take no action sought to embarrass or humiliate him” and that it would “take no steps which affect him without giving him prior notice”.
As Gordhan departed for the Group of 20 (G-20) meeting in China on Thursday, it remained unclear whether or not he would be charged.
The next item of communication the minister received after the May correspondence was the letter last week, which ordered him to provide the Hawks with a “warning statement” on Thursday afternoon. He said that he would not present himself to the Hawks, but replied to its questions via a statement and a letter from his attorneys.
Gordhan was criticised for failing to present himself to the Hawks, but the rand once again was hit by the uncertainty caused by the renewed push in the investigation.
The matter has polarised the ANC, which is currently consulting its structures on the way forward after a dismal performance in the 2016 local government elections.
Among the correspondence released by Gordhan’s attorneys on Tuesday night were his detailed responses to the 27 questions posed to him in March ahead of the budget address.
The responses show that while Gordhan was responsible for the establishment of an alleged rogue unit at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) during his tenure as commissioner, which was signed off by then Finance Minister Trevor Manual, he says he had very little knowledge of the day-to-day operations of the unit. The unit comprised about 20 people, of staff complement of 15,000 at SARS at the time.
In response to the Hawks’ questions about the aim and objectives of the unit, Gordhan said it was originally focused on cross-border and corruption related to tax and customs. Thereafter, it was tasked with collecting intelligence for noncompliance on tax, customs and excise in a direct manner — the focused areas were the illicit economy including cigarettes, abalone smuggling and VAT fraud.
Gordhan said that while the senior management of SARS briefed him regularly on operations and information required by the CEO of the tax agency, he had no knowledge of “operation Sunday Evenings”, the most contentious of the disclosures of the actual conduct of the unit made public so far.
Gordhan left SARS in 2009 and therefore did not have information about the unit after this point, the responses indicate.
The other allegation put to him by the Hawks was his approval of the early retirement and re-employment of former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay. Gordhan approved this when he was finance minister and Oupa Magashula had replaced him as SARS commissioner. He said Pillay had sought access to his pension fund to finance the education of his children.
Magashula had made inquiries to the Department of Public Service and Administration about whether this was possible, and was told that early retirement and re-employment was “lawful and not unusual”.
Gordhan said he had approved Magashula’s proposal, believing that it was above board and that Pillay had done invaluable work in transforming SARS since 1995, when he joined the agency.