Times Media and Oppelt reject claims of Sunday Times improprieties

02 December 2015 - 17:52 By TMG Digital reporter
SARS branch. File photo.
SARS branch. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Foto24/Theana Calitz

Times Media Group and former Sunday Times editor Phylicia Oppelt have rejected claims by Pearlie Joubert, a former reporter at the newspaper, that Oppelt’s ex-husband influenced the Sunday Times’s reporting on a rogue unit of the South African Revenue Service (SARS).

Joubert has claimed in an affidavit that Rudolf Mastenbroek, her friend of 26 years and previously a source of hers, had tried to plant information about alleged improprieties committed by former SARS commissioner Ivan Pillay and SARS investigator Johan van Loggerenberg.

Mastenbroek was previously married to Oppelt.

“When Pearlie Joubert's affidavit was first brought to Times Media’s attention, its owners had the foresight to launch an internal investigation as her claims had serious implications,” said Oppelt on Wednesday.

“An independent, external party conducted a comprehensive examination of Joubert's accusations. None, however malicious and obviously driven by a personal agenda, was found to have substance – specifically the claim that my former husband held sway in the reporting on SARS.”

Oppelt added: “To give this any credence is to fundamentally undermine the reputation, integrity and professionalism of my former colleagues in the Sunday Times’s investigations unit. All they did was their jobs as award-winning investigative journalists – hunt for information, obtain documents that the powerful wish to hide and write stories that shed light on misdeeds.”

She said the public release of a report by consultancy KPMG into the existence of a rogue unit within SARS would “substantively confirm” the Sunday Times’s reporting.

According to Oppelt, key issues that Joubert failed to address in her affidavit were:

  • why, on resigning, she made no mention of her discomfort around this issue;
  • the real reason for the breakdown in the relationship with her investigative colleagues, which involved her clearly breaching her ethical obligations as a journalist on a matter entirely unrelated to this case;
  • the nature of her relationship with Johan van Loggerenberg; and
  • why she wrote an anonymous and sympathetic article about Van Loggerenberg’s charity while at the Sunday Times.

“Her affidavit is untested and the Sunday Times had no opportunity to cross-examine her at the ombudsman’s hearing,” Oppelt added. “It is the construct of an embittered person who simply aims to discredit her former colleagues and place of employment.”

On Tuesday, Times Media Group MD Andrew Gill said in a statement: “Not only was Mastenbroek not a source for any of our stories about SARS, but the central point of our reporting – the existence of a rogue unit within SARS – has been backed up by a number of independent investigations, most recently a KPMG report.

“Previously an investigation by advocate Muzi Sikhakhane also confirmed the existence of the unit. Sikhakhane's report was endorsed by Judge Kroon. Self-evidently we were not in a position to influence the outcome of these investigations.”

Gill added: “Four reporters gathered information from their own sources with the intelligence community as well as within SARS and tested it before publication. We stand by our stories.”

To read the Sikhakhane Report click here.

To read a summary of the KPMG Report click here.

Kroon Advisory Committee Report: Covert Sars unit was 'unlawful'