SARS commissioner Tom Moyane. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
SARS commissioner Tom Moyane. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

WHILE a briefing by two security cluster ministers last week provided little clarity on the Hawks investigation into the alleged "rogue unit" at the South African Revenue Service (SARS), Project Sunday Evenings is now at the centre of the controversy.

Project Sunday Evenings was an operation conducted by the rogue unit’s members in which they spied on the National Prosecuting Authority offices in 2007, at the request of top prosecutor Gerrie Nel during the case against top cop Jackie Selebi.

Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko and State Security Minister David Mahlobo had used the SARS report by Adv Muzi Sikhakhane as an entry point into the allegations around the rogue unit last week. But Project Sunday Evenings — the initial focus of the Hawks investigation — was first raised in a controversial KPMG report commissioned by SARS head Tom Moyane in December 2014.

The KPMG report carries a disclaimer that it "was not prepared for the resolution or disposition of any disputes or controversies".

KPMG had also said that while it had concluded its work, it still awaited the final sign-off from its client, the tax agency. The report is clear on what the unit did not do, but vague on what it did do.

While it found that the unit was unlawful, it found "no evidence" that it had spied on President Jacob Zuma; "no clear evidence" that equipment was used to spy on politicians; "no clear evidence" that its meetings with taxpayers was monitored; and "no clear evidence" that SARS ran a brothel.

But the forensic audit revealed "very limited information" on the "extent and nature" of the work carried out by the unit.

In a section dealing with the operations of the unit, KPMG found that: "It is very difficult to establish from reports available to us what the output of members of the unit was."

This is because the unit operated "outside of the normal systems and controls of SARS".

What KPMG does shed light on, however, are further investigations around the unit.

Among its findings are that SARS engaged unlawfully in the "procurement of intelligence-gathering equipment", listing equipment that Mr Nhleko mentioned at a media briefing last week.

KPMG says the unit failed to adhere to the Regulation of Interception of Communication-related Information Act. It says SARS had performed its own research to establish whether it could intercept communication and "mostly came to the same conclusion", that it was not allowed to do so.

SARS had sought to work with the National Intelligence Agency, but the endeavour failed. The KPMG report goes into detail about the battle between competing government departments.

SARS had memorandums of understanding with a number of them including the police, intelligence, the NPA and the then Scorpions. But the relationships "were not always amicable", and these ties degenerated to such an extent that the tax agency "essentially operated in a vacuum at times".

The first link between the unit and then SARS commissioner and current Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan was also made for the first time by KPMG in the findings and conclusions. It was the leaking of this report that turned ties between Mr Gordhan and Mr Moyane from frosty to downright hostile.

KPMG found no evidence that Mr Gordhan was informed about the unit’s existence, but that he "ought to have known" it existed as he was the accounting officer.