Analysis

Is Pravin Gordhan secretly controlling state capture probes?

Via Noseweek

THERE’S been a sighting of Yolisa Pikie, former R900,000ayear overseer of ethics and good governance at the South African Revenue Service. Pikie, whose 13year career at SARS included a spell as special adviser to then commissioner Pravin Gordhan. His last job there was as special adviser to acting commissioner Ivan Pillay.

Before his departure, Pikie had been facing disciplinary charges for faking his CV – falsely claiming he held a BCom degree from the University of the Western Cape. He had also passed himself off at official meetings as a lawyer. More controversially, he featured in KPMG’s rogue unit report under the heading “Tampering with evidence”. 

What was that all about? Three days after acting commissioner Pillay was suspended on 5 December 2014 over rogue unit allegations, he contacted Pikie and asked him to surreptitiously collect two cell phones that he had inadvertently left behind. They were two of four pool phones” bought by the SARS Restricted Taxpayer Unit and loaned to Pillay the previous August (for off-the-record conversations – Ed). 

But where were the other two phones? Under questioning Pikie said that he had one and the other was with the other guy– who he then admitted was Johann van Loggerenberg. All four phones were then made available to the KPMG investigators – but when Pikie eventually brought them in, their sim cards had been destroyed and no data remained on them.

Today, Noseweek can report that Yolisa Pikie is back with his old boss Pillay and SARS’s former Yolisa Pikie (left) with Peter Richer and Ivan Pillay and Sars former rogue unit leader Johann van Loggerenberg, the three of them discreetly commissioning and controlling private-sector forensic investigations into corruption and state capture at State Owned Enterprises (SOEs). Droll, really, with Pillay and Van Loggerenberg both out on bail, along with Janse “Skollie” van Rensburg, on charges of illegal interception of communications and corruption ting to the alleged bugging of the offices of the National Prosecuting Authority in 2007 (next scheduled court appearance June 12).

In April (nose234) we revealed that Pillay and Van Loggerenberg were linked to a shadowy company called Ukhozi Forensics and Consulting Services. We stated that Ukhozi had been working for Warren Goldblatt’s notorious security firm BCPS (Basileus Consilium Professional Services), which in turn was commissioned by Werksmans attorneys to run surveillance as part of an investigation into corruption at Prasa, the state-owned rail transport entity.

We reported that little-known Ukhozi started business on 10 July 2015, two months after Pillay’s departure from SARS with a controversial near-R10m goodbye pay-off. One of Ukhozi’s registered directors was Luvo Lincoln Makasi, the recently-fired chairman of the Central Energy Fund, who would only confirm that Pillay and Van Loggerenberg did ad hoc consulting” for the company. He didn’t remember them being Ukhozi shareholders.

It now emerges that Ukhozi operates from allocated space within BCPS’s offices at 313 Rivonia Road in Morningside, Johannesburg. And there to be found are Ivan Pillay, Johann van Loggerenberg and Yolisa Pikie.

Quite apart from Prasa, Ukhozi has been playing a key role in the Transnet state capture probe. So has BCPS, and here we have better detail on who does what. Different attorneys this time, but that’s all.

“The new Transnet board appointed MNS (Mncedi Ndlovu and Sedumedi Attorneys) to do the report,” says our source. “MNS outsourced the work to Ukhozi, and Ukhozi outsourced the work to BCPS. Ivan Pillay attends the BCPS meetings and Pillay and Van Loggerenberg control the entire engagement between MNS, BCPS and Transnet to the satisfaction of the minister [Gordhan].

The source continues: When last I was there, Van Loggerenberg was working behind a computer in an office next to the boardroom. Pikie is there too, hes one of the key roleplayers in Ukhozi.

Ivan Pillay takes his longaccustomed boardroom role, and apart from Van Loggerenberg, a seasoned professional spy for 12 years and once rated the best investigator at SARS, it seems that the company has no other investigative staff. They are all coming from BCPS,says our source.

When required, Ukhozi subcontracts specialists like Forensics Consulting, who as reported in April – employs Anton van ‘t Wout, Van Loggerenberg’s cyber crime expert in the former High Risk Investigation Unit (HRIU) at SARS.

The old names keep popping up again, personalities in Ukhozi’s modus operandi merging seamlessly with those in Van Loggerenberg’s old media manipulation games at SARS. Back then Van Loggerenberg and his HRIU would dig out the dirt on big name tax dodgers. Van Loggerenberg would offer the scoop to a favoured mainstream journalist (who would dutifully submit their copy to him for approval prior to publication).

SARS’s official spokesperson Adrian Lackay would provide the usual: “SARS does not comment on individual taxpayers” quote to tack on the end and everyone in the whole charade was happy, apart from the luckless tax dodger.

Today Lackay is Pravin Gordhan’s spokesman and trusted aide at Public Enterprises, where he provides a familiar and reliable link between “PG” and his Ukhozi rottweilers. Political interference? Well, nobody knows, so what’s the problem?

As Noseweek went to press Judge Raymond Zondo’s state capture inquiry was preparing to focus on Transnet and the forensic investigations conducted by attorneys MNS and Werksmans – and their contracted controversial private investigators.

MNS Attorneys’ managing director Tshiamo Sedumedi did not respond to our request to discuss Ukhozi, BCPS and the Transnet investigations.

Sikhakhane pressured to withdraw report

For five years Muzi Sikhakhane SC has been under pressure to withdraw his SARS-commissioned report which found that Johann van Loggerenberg’s High Risk Investigation Unit and its predecessor, the National Research Group, were illegally established and engaged in activities they had no lawful authority to perform.

The rogue unit and its mentors have friends in high places. The pressure on Sikhakhane to withdraw began even before his 2014 report had been officially released, with a call from retired Constitutional Court judge, Justice Zak Yacoob.

“He called me to rebuke me,” Sikhakhane tells Noseweek. “This was when my report was still confidential. I told him that I took exception to his call because he was defending his friends (Judge Yacoob is a close friend of minister Pravin Gordhan and Ivan Pillay, and I did not think it was our call as lawyers and judges to do that.”

Four months after the report’s release there were three more approaches, all in the same month, all urging him to meet with Ivan Pillay in what were clear attempts to have him “think again”. Sikhakhane is reluctant to name the callers, one of whom he says was a mainstream newspaper editor.

Former police spy Van Loggerenberg has consistently claimed that Sikhakhane’s report was flawed in fact and law. He disputes its contents, as well as the conclusions – in a separate, independent report – of retired Judge Frank Kroon “in their entirety”.

Last year Kroon, whose 2015 committee of inquiry had confirmed Sikhakhane’s findings, buckled and told the Nugent Commission that his own conclusions were not “thought through properly”, were incorrect and that the establishment of the covert unit was lawful.

There’s an interesting background to all this. In September 2014 Sikhakhane and his panel were appointed by acting SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay to investigate attorney Belinda Walter’s multiple allegations of impropriety against her former lover Johann van Loggerenberg.

The previous April then finance minister Pravin Gordhan had appointed the previously mentioned Judge Zak Yacoob and Sikhakhane to conduct an inquiry into allegations that then SARS commissioner Oupa Magashula had placed the reputation of SARS at risk by the inappropriate offer of a job at SARS to a chartered accountant. Their obliging conclusion enabled Gordhan to announce Magashula’s immediate resignation three months later – along with Pillay’s promotion to acting commissioner.

So when Pillay appointed Sikhakhane to investigate Belinda Walter’s complaints he confidently expected Van Loggerenberg and his HRIU unit to come out smelling of roses. On the eve of the report’s publication City Press reporter Caiphus Kgosana was working on a shock exposé of a secret spy unit at SARS. Revenue’s press spokesman Adrian Lackay was trying frantically to persuade the newspaper not to rush to press on “concocted evidence”, but to wait for Sikhakhane’s report (which Lackay, Van Loggerenberg and Pillay were convinced would kill these embarrassing leaks).

Van Loggerenberg’s media collaborator Jacques Pauw was mobilised to talk City Press assistant editor Nicki Gules and editor Ferial Haffajee into spiking Kgosana’s exposé, promising to personally write the real story (“it is apparently very explosive,” Pauw assured them) when they exclusively received the Sikhakhane report.

Imagine his rude shock when the report concluded the opposite.

Pillay had signed Sikhakhanes terms of reference on 10 September 2014. Just 17 days later, as the investigation was in full flow, new broom Tom Moyane arrived to take over as commissioner at SARS. And Moyane took a very different view of Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane these allegedly covert goings-on. So, went the thinking, had Moyane nobbled Sikhakhane to sharpen his sights on the perceived miscreants? Enter retired Judge Robert Nugent.

Last June, Nugent’s commission of inquiry into governance at SARS heard evidence from witnesses including Ivan Pillay, SARS’s former spokesperson Adrian Lackay and ex-enforcement chief Gene Ravele (a rogue unit? Hogwash! declared Ravele). So Nugent decided to make his own inquiries. Noseweek has a set of the correspondence between him and Muzi Sikhakhane.

“I note that you met with Commissioner Moyane after his appointment,” wrote Nugent on July 10. “Could you advise me whether your mandate was altered or extended in consequence of that meeting, and if so, in what respect it was altered or extended.”

Sikhakhane’s reply of July 13: “Our mandate was neither extended nor altered at any point after we commenced our investigation. We acted and prepared our report in accordance with and on the basis of our letter of appointment and our terms of reference.”

On September 10 Nugent struck again, scarcely bothering to veil his sarcasm. “I have been studying your report to SARS and am not entirely sure on what grounds you considered the NRG Unit to be unlawful (I am not now referring to the alleged conduct of its members). There is mention in the report of the National Strategic Intelligence Act but I am not sure what section you refer to as prohibiting the conducting of covert intelligence gathering’ so far as it relates to, for example, gathering evidence on the activities of the illicit tobacco trade. If there is some other basis for your conclusion would you kindly advise me.”

Sikhakhane’s reply of September 11: “We do not consider it appropriate or proper to say more than is contained in the Tom Moyane Report. This is especially so as the Report was written almost four years ago and was not sought to be reviewed by any person that was entitled to do so. It suffices to say that the Report records our conclusion that SARS was not empowered by any legislation to engage in covert intelligence gathering itself, as opposed to doing so in conjunction with the various National Intelligence Structures defined and regulated by the National Strategic Intelligence Act 39 of 1994.

“It is for you to decide whether this question falls within your jurisdiction and, if so, whether you agree with the legal conclusion reached.”

Despite this correspondence, in the last week of September Judge Nugent commented at his commission that he had sent Sikhakhane an email to obtain clarity on his findings but had received no response. Nugent said he had also called Sikhakhane with questions but was told by the advocate that doing so was unlawful.

Barry Bateman, a reporter for Eyewitness News, sent Sikhakhane a WhatsApp asking: “If these claims are correct, why are you unwilling to assist the commission? Do you stand by the findings of your report? Are you entirely satisfied that due process was followed when making your findings?

Sikhakhane was out of the country so advocate Nasreen Rajab-Budlender, a member of Sikhakhane’s panel, replied. “It was false that they did not respond to emails from the commission,” said Rajab-Budlender. “It is also false that Judge Nugent contacted Adv Sikhakhane and that he declined to answer Judge Nugent’s questions.”

Rajab-Budlender added: “We stand by our report, which recognises the limits of our own powers as a non-judicial panel of inquiry appointed by the then Acting Commissioner Mr Ivan Pillay.”

Today Muzi Sikhakhane will still not speak publicly on the controversy that continues to swirl around his rogue unit report, which is a shame, for in private the senior counsel talks freely of the dangers he sees in the plethora of un-mandated bodies such as private security companies conducting state capture investigations. In his view this has created a parallel state, itself a form of state capture.

On the hot potato of what Ivan Pillay may have hoped to gain by appointing Sikhakhane to investigate Belinda Walter’s complaints, a friend of Sikhakhane reflects the advocate’s position. “Muzi was never going to not tell Ivan what he thought was wrong at SARS. Maybe Ivan’s upset with him, but Muzi’s not a guy to buy, if that’s what Ivan thought. We have to rid our country of corruption. Not one form, all of it. But in Muzi’s view, what we’re finding here is society being hoodwinked into ignoring the facts, not looking at certain crooks and looking at other crooks.”

 

 

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