THE controversial SARS “rogue unit” which stands accused of unlawfully spying on South African taxpayers is set to claim its latest victim – this time a retired Constitutional Court judge.
It has emerged that Zak Yacoob – who retired in January 2013 after serving 15 years on the Bench of highest court in the land – allegedly acted improperly in January last year when he tried to obtain a report that detailed the activities of the unit.
According to reliable sources, Yacoob had called Advocate Muzi Sikhakhane – who had investigated the unit – to request a meeting to discuss his findings that the rogue unit was unlawful. It is understood that Sikhakhane had accused Yacoob of improper conduct and immediately reported the matter to SARS.
Sources said Sikhakhane had also had a verbal altercation with Yacoob in which he had accused the judge of resorting to “racial superiority complex” and perpetuating “an Indian ethnic superiority attitude” against other implicated Africans.
Sikhakhane’s findings were corroborated by three other independent reports – the Kanyane report, the Judge Kroon report and the KPMG report. The report had triggered a dramatic chain of events at SARS, with Pillay and other senior SARS officials close to Gordhan fired, charged or forced to resign.
These included former SARS risk and enforcement executive Johann Van Loggerenberg, former Strategy Chief Pete Richer, former Anti-Corruption head Clifford Collins, former spokesperson Adrian Lackay and former technology head Barry Hore.
When contacted for comment about his conduct, an angry and rude Yacoob said:
“It’s not your bloody business. What has that got to do with you? It’s my personal business, if I contact him, if I want to talk to people about things. What the hell does it have to do with you nosy parkers.”
He added: “Please explain to me you idiot? You are a damn idiot. No, no, no. Don’t be idiotic to me. Explain to me what the hell has it got to do with you that I contacted Sikhakhane.” Yacoob further labelled the reporter a “coward” and a mischievous “liar” who was out to “cause shit” by following up on rogue unit related allegations.
The March 5 interview was done for Sunday Times, but the paper refused to publish it.
Yacoob confirmed that he had a close relationship with Gordhan and Pillay, formed during their antiapartheid struggle days.
“Everybody knows that Pravin and I have known each other from the days of the underground and we have extremely close relations with each other. And in my view, Pravin Gordhan is an extremely honourable man,” he said.
“I know Pillay also from the underground of the ANC. And I don’t know him as well as I know the minister. He’s not as a good friend of mine as he is of the minister. But I get on very well with him.”
Yacoob’s claims of a deep friendship between the finance minister and Pillay raise questions whether the relationship had influenced Gordhan’s decision to approve early retirement for Pillay in 2010, allowing SARS to pay an early retirement penalty of R1.2 million.
Gordhan faces charges of breaching the Public Finance Management Act in relation to the early penalty approval. Yacoob conceded that he would have discussed the rogue unit findings with Sikhakhane, but denied that he did so on Gordhan and Pillay’s behalf.
“Firstly, I was representing nobody. Secondly, when I read the contents of the report, and read indications of what the report had said I may well have written SMSes to him or phoned him to chat to him about it. I would have phoned to chat to him about it because I would have had nothing to do with Ivan. I was just shocked at the allegations and the findings that the unit was unlawful.”
An unapologetic Yacoob later said that if Pillay – a key figure in the unit – had asked him for advice, he would have done so.
“I would never have phoned Mr Sikhakhane as a result of what Ivan said to me. But, I want to say this: If Ivan asked me for advice on what he should do arising out of allegations in the report I would have given him that advice,” he said.
Sources said a verbal altercation between Sikhakhane and Yacoob had ensued over the matter, with the former accusing the judge of perpetuating a “racial” and “an Indian ethnic” supremacy against Africans who were also implicated by the report.
“Yacoob got access to the report two months after it was with the commissioner [Tom Moyane]. It shouldn’t have been with him. Sikhakhane told him he was resorting to a racial superiority complex and pushing an Indian ethnic superiority attitude at the expense of Africans. He felt betrayed by him,” a source said.
Yacoob and Sikhakhane had previously worked together on a SARS investigation commissioned by Gordhan into the then tax boss Oupa Magashula. The report led to Magashula’s unceremonious departure from the revenue collection agency.
But, Yacoob denied any verbal altercation with Sikhakhane. “Nothing of that sort. We have not had a fight at all and we have not been upset with each other at all.”
Just earlier this month, Yacoob admitted that he had advised Gordhan on the unit, which raised concerns about the separation of state and the judiciary. “I want to say I analysed it very carefully and discussed it with many people.
“The minister [Gordhan] and I consulted with each other on these units and I advised strongly that they were necessary and not wrong,” said Yacoob, while addressing a fundraising dinner for Pillay organised by the Merebank Justice Network in Durban last week. Gordhan attended it.
Sikhakhane declined to comment.
SARS spokesperson Sandile Memela couldn’t be reached for comment.