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SARS seeks to block Mkhwebane bid for tax files

Publish date: 11 November 2019
Issue Number: 4822
Diary: Legalbrief Today
Category: Litigation

SARS Commissioner Edward Kieswetter has launched urgent legal action to block Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane from obtaining former President Jacob Zuma’s tax information, an application legal writer Karyn Maughan says in a Business Day report will have far-reaching implications for the institution’s ability to access taxpayer details. The legal action is an intensification of the distrust and acrimony that erupted between Mkhwebane and SARS during her investigation into the so-called SARS 'rogue unit'. Mkhwebane accused SARS of ‘colluding’ with Cabinet Minister and former SARS Commissioner Pravin Gordhan in how they responded to questions she raised about the unit. Contradicting Mkhwebane’s finding, Kieswetter has stated that he was unaware of any evidence showing the unit was unlawful. Kieswetter now wants the Gauteng High Court (Pretoria) to urgently stay the implementation of a 21 October subpoena issued by Mkhwebane to obtain Zuma’s taxpayer information, which she is seeking in connection with a November 2017 complaint laid by then DA leader Mmusi Maimane about payments Zuma allegedly received from a security company in the first months of his presidency.

Kieswetter wants the High Court to order that SARS officials are permitted to withhold taxpayer information – specifically, ‘any information provided by a taxpayer or obtained by SARS in respect of the taxpayer, including biometric information’ – from the Public Protector. Further, notes the Business Day report, he wants the court to order that the ‘Public Protector’s subpoena powers do not extend to taxpayer information’. Last, Kieswetter wants the court to order that Mkhwebane personally pay 15% of the legal costs attached to this potentially precedent-setting case, if she chooses to oppose it. While refusing to provide any further information about the case because it is ‘sub judice’, SARS spokesperson Sandile Memela insisted that it should not be perceived as an attempt to protect Zuma. ‘We are aware of how this may be misconstrued. But it is simply about the Tax Administration Act, that binds us to confidentiality on any taxpayer affairs,’ he said. Mkhwebane’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, confirmed receipt of Kieswetter’s application, and said Mkhwebane was still deciding how to respond to it.

Full Business Day report