The Pretoria High Court has granted SARS’ application to preserve more than R4bn in state capture loot. SARS’ victory in these urgent court proceedings reveals the importance of the taxman’s involvement in recovering proceeds of state capture and bringing the beneficiaries to book.

With little to show from the State Capture Inquiry thus far, SARS’ intervention reminds us how powerful tax legislation can be in dealing with complex crimes. Lest we forget, it was the taxman who tripped up some of the most notorious and organised criminals of the twentieth century.

State of the Inquiry

The cost of the State Capture Inquiry is currently hovering at around R800m. This is not the only judicial investigation funded by the public in recent times, but it is by far the most expensive and the end is not yet in sight. But, even with some damning testimony by several witnesses, South Africans have not yet seen any bang for their buck.

The truth is, we are light years away from seeing any convictions on criminal charges such as corruption, bribery or fraud. The state’s onerous burden of proof, the complexity of these crimes and the resources required to investigate them are but a few factors that mean that it can take the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) years to build a robust case. Even then, a conviction is by no means guaranteed.

Tax law v criminal law

There is a reason why federal prosecutors turned to tax law to get a conviction against individuals such as Al Capone. Tax evasion is not a crime that concerns itself with the legality of the receipt, the purpose thereof, by whom it was paid or what it was used for. The taxman simply needs to establish if the loot was in fact disclosed and disclosed correctly.

For this reason, tax evasion is a far more attainable conviction because proving the elements of the crime is plain sailing when compared with for example corruption or fraud. This case is no different; SARS’ application to preserve the funds is based on the fact that the funds were incorrectly claimed as a tax-deductible expense.

The testimony at the State Capture Inquiry has provided the smoking gun and if SARS deploys some of its finest investigative auditors, it will make life very difficult for those who shared in the loot.

SARS holds the key

The Tax Administration Act bestows upon SARS wide powers to act swiftly and decisively, as demonstrated in this case. If the proceeds of state capture are to be recovered through the criminal justice system, chances are we may never see those funds again. SARS on the other hand has a powerful arsenal to collect the money if it determines that it was not taxed as it should have been.

The NPA should team up with SARS, follow the money and obtain early convictions for tax evasion. That is not to say that the NPA should not eventually pursue other, perhaps more serious, charges. In fact, this will give the NPA time to build an unassailable case on other charges in the meantime.

This strategy ensures for a slam-dunk upfront and it is quite possible that it may lead others to join the likes of Angelo Agrizzi to come forward, to strike a deal that may lead to the bigger fish ending up behind bars.