SARS investigates if Digital Vibes and Estina contracts evaded tax

The South African Revenue Services (Sars) said it was looking into the multi-million-rand Digital Vibes contract after it was referred to it by the agency’s Liaison Unit (SLU).

The SLU supports Sars’ mission to combat tax evasion and corruption.

The unit exchanges taxpayer information with the Financial Investigation Centre (FIC), the law enforcement agencies, the South African Reserve Bank, the Auditor-General and Commissions of Inquiry.

“The SLU referred 99 individuals and entities in 14 case suggestions for potential tax offences to the relevant SARS business units relating to State Capture, in respect of tenders awarded by Eskom, SAPS, SAA Express, Digital Vibes and Estina,” the Sars 2021/22 annual report reads.

The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) is investigating former health minister Zweli Mkhize’s involvement in the awarding of a R150 million communication tender to Digital Vibes during the COVID-19 pandemic, which later led to his resignation as health minister.

No arrests have been made in the saga. Mkhize has consistently denied any wrongdoing in the awarding of the contracts to his former allies. The department of health earlier this year found three senior officials guilty of breaching the Public Finance Management Act during the awarding of the controversial Digital Vibes tender.

The officials are deputy-director general Anban Pillay, head of communications Popo Maja and now former chief of staff Shireen Pardesi. Both Pillay and Maja were given final warnings, while Pardesi opted to resign.

Mosebenzi Zwane, the former Free State MEC for agriculture, Mosebenzi Zwane, was last month released on R10 000 bail following his appearance at the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Wednesday for fraud, theft, money-laundering and corruption.

The charges stem from the Vrede dairy farm scandal, commonly ferreted to as Estina which is said to have benefitted the Gupta family. Zwane was arrested alongside a former employee of Sahara, Ugeshni Govender. Another accused in the matter is Ronica Ragavan, who is a former director of Gupta-owned company Islandsite Investments.

The NPA alleges that Zwane and his co-accused plundered millions of rands meant to empower black farmers in the province. The Sars annual report also says that the entity had received and actioned referrals from the SIU pertaining to 468 individuals and entities suspected of tax fraud/evasion.

“Also received were 499 individual matters requesting mutual cooperation and exchange of information from SAPS, DPCI (Hawks) and the Investigating Directorate regarding State Capture cases and/ or matters emanating from the Nugent, Zondo and Public Investment Corporation Commissions of Inquiry,” the report reads.

“The FIC referred 228 reports to SARS relating to suspected illicit financial flows and possible tax non-compliance and SARS submitted 100 requests for information from SARS business units to the FIC.”

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