Big tobacco ‘infiltration’ of SA intelligence detailed in Sars pair’s book

19 September 2016 - 15:03 By Andre Jurgens

An explosive cache of stored electronic data shows how deeply the tentacles of the tobacco industry penetrated and manipulated intelligence and law-enforcement agencies in South Africa.

“It documents precisely how the interests of informants‚ state officials … as well as private business overlap way beyond what could be considered proper. In some instances their activities were clearly unlawful‚” says the former head of a crime-busting unit at the South African Revenue Service (Sars)‚ Johann van Loggerenberg.

Van Loggerenberg and former Sars spokesman Adrian Lackay have thrown a spotlight on complicity between state officials and private business in criminal activities in a new book‚ Rogue: The Inside Story of SARS’s Elite Crime-busting Unit.

Van Loggerenberg and other managers were forced to resign after being implicated‚ wrongfully they say‚ in a scandal over a “rogue unit” operating at Sars. They wrote the book to present their side of the story.

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The book documents secretly recorded conversations with handlers‚ industrial espionage‚ the sabotaging of competitors’ business interests‚ secret payments from a multinational company and the “brief yet damaging relationship” between Van Loggerenberg and a lawyer‚ Belinda Walter.

In the chapter Double Game‚ he says that Walter invited him on a date “out of the blue” almost two months after their first meeting at his office in September 2013.

He initially had “no inkling of the depth of her involvement in the tobacco industry” but became concerned about ethical pitfalls and conflicts of interest when he learnt that she acted as a lawyer for a tobacco company – an industry he was investigating on behalf of Sars – while simultaneously spying on the firm in her capacity as a “State Security Agency agent”. She was also chairperson of the Fair-Trade Independent Tobacco Association (FITA).

Walter told him that she was an informant for a “multinational tobacco manufacturer who paid her to spy on clients and on FITA members”‚ and showed him proof of their payments.

During their relationship‚ he said‚ Walter handed him‚ in his private capacity‚ data which he helped to retrieve from her old cellphones and data cloud storage to “use it as I wished” – a claim she later denied.

He put the memory stick in a basket on top of his fridge‚ “thinking I would look at it later when I had a chance”.

Their relationship reached breaking point in early 2014 after she had “gone through my phone messages and email without my permission for the third time”.

Van Loggerenberg believes that the data retrieved from Walter’s old cellphones and the cloud “lies at the heart of at least the initial attacks on me and Sars”.

He went through the material on the memory stick. “What I found was shocking‚ to say the least. It documents precisely how the interests of informants‚ state officials who were part of the Illicit-Tobacco Task Team‚ as well as private business overlap way beyond what could be considered proper. In some instances their activities were clearly unlawful.

“As I expect that I may have to rely on this data in pending litigation‚ I can’t divulge too much‚ but to give a sense of the type of collusion that took place‚ I will provide a few examples‚” he says in the book.

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One was a text message‚ dated September 2‚ 2011‚ between Walter and her Illicit-Tobacco Task Team handler: “You and I know exactly what and who we are/were from the start … our ability to do what we do‚ I think was the initial attraction between us.

We are birds of a feather. We even‚ around the time we nailed (name of person in tobacco industry’s) ass‚ agreed that we make a moerse good team to push people to do what we wanted them to do … whether it was (person in tobacco industry)‚ (initials of senior manager in SSA)‚ Sars‚ NPA or Lonrho!! Our strength to get things done lies in our joint ability … why would I f*** with that!?”

Another recorded set of messages reveals how people had conspired to destroy the career of a Sars official who was investigating illegally imported cigarettes and had confiscated a batch. Others record how a paper trail of evidence was created to counter a Sars investigation – which saw tax authorities loose over R25-million in revenue that was due to the state.

Yet more electronic records contain the contents of a chat-group discussion seeking the services of a “contact” who could “force (President Jacob) Zuma’s hand to squash” a person in the tobacco industry who appeared to be “getting away with everything”. An alternative solution would be to procure the services of a hitman to exterminate the “cockroach”.

Van Loggerenberg says in the book that he believed Walter did not make a full disclosure of this electronic evidence to authorities because it would expose how complicit she had been.

“I had a nagging feeling she was hiding things from me‚” he said.

– TMG Digital

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