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Ruling to hand over Jacob Zuma’s individual tax returns for 2010 to 2018 ‘undermines confidence in justice’

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The North Gauteng High Court judgment ordered SARS to hand over Jacob Zuma’s individual tax returns to two media houses, the

Former South African president Jacob Zuma. (Photo by Kim LUDBROOK / POOL / AFP)

DURBAN – THE Jacob Zuma Foundation has cautioned against the use of state institutions to fight political battles and set a precedent that undermines confidence in the justice system.

Foundation spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi reacted after the North Gauteng High Court judgment ordering the SA Revenue Service (Sars) to hand over former president Jacob Zuma’s individual tax returns for 2010 to 2018 to two media houses, the Financial Mail and amaBhungane investigative unit, within 10 days.

The two media houses had argued that Zuma had not filed tax returns for the first seven of his nine years in office; that he owed millions of rand in unpaid taxes; and that he received money from illicit sources during his reign as president.

Manyi said the judgment was “bizarre” and “the implications are dire because it undermines confidence in the justice system”.

“It also means that the information people give to Sars is no longer secure. This case is supposed to be viewed not just as a Zuma case, but as a case involving any citizen or South African corporate whose confidential information will now be made public information.

“When the CR17 documents were supposed to be unsealed, the argument from the courts was that it was not in the interests of justice to unseal the documents, but when it comes to Zuma’s case, it is suddenly in the interest of the justice system to have the documents published everywhere.”

Manyi said he hoped that Sars would appeal against the judgment and mount the same argument it used at the Constitutional Court when Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane sought to subpoena Zuma’s tax records.

On whether Zuma was willing to have his Sars records displayed in public, he said that Zuma had made it clear that he would present his Sars documents to the public protector if required, a move that was successfully challenged in court by Sars.

“Sars’ reputation is on the line, and this development if left unchallenged might have an impact on revenue collection as people and corporates will now have reservations when it comes to Sars, as their confidential information might end up on newspaper front pages.”

Manyi said Zuma’s lawyers were studying the judgment with a view to supporting the envisaged Sars appeal.

Approached for comment, Sars spokesperson Sphithi Sibeko said Sars had noted the high court judgment.

“We are currently studying the judgment, and after an engagement with our legal counsel we will communicate our way forward.”

Retired Constitutional Court justice and Freedom Under Law (FUL) chairperson Judge Johann Kriegler said that he was concerned by the implications of the judgment.

“I have not read the judgment, and Freedom Under Law have adopted no position regarding it. But, that said, the matter is, however, likely to go on appeal and be more fully thrashed out,” said Kriegler.

Political analysts raised concerns about violating an individual’s right to privacy by publishing confidential information.

Kim Heller said: “Such a ruling sets a dangerous precedent. Any thinking person must ask why was this is granted now, within this very probing we may find both plot and motive.

“It is unlikely that this move is in the public interest, but rather in the interests of a faction within the ruling party, and its band of journalists, who seem hellbent on destroying Zuma at all costs.”

Professor Tumi Senokoane said: “The ruling that media houses gain access to his confidential information is legal as granted by the court, but it is strange that the same court is refusing access to CR17 bank statements, and is therefore inconsistent.”

Contacted for comment, Presidency spokesperson Tyrone Searle said the Presidency would not comment because the court judgment did not require comment from President Cyril Ramaphosa.

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