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Big blow for SARS

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….Authority ordered not to seize foreign-registered cars….

MASERU-THE days of the South African Revenue Services (SARS) wantonly impounding and holding on to Lesotho registered cars for years might be over.
A South African court has ruled that SARS should not arbitrarily seize vehicles and keep them for inordinate time without finalising its investigations on whether duty is owed.

SARS has for years impounded Lesotho registered cars in South Africa on charges that they violate customs regulations.
The revenue authority has mostly targeted Lesotho cars driven by South Africans.

SARS would hold on to the cars for months and even years while insisting that they are still investigating the matter.
Their justification has been that duties have not been paid on those vehicles and South Africans are not allowed to drive foreign registered cars.
Even Basotho driving Lesotho registered vehicles have been caught up in the SARS dragnet.

Cars registered in Namibia, Swaziland and Botswana have also been impounded. In some cases South African cars have not been spared.
The authority would only release the vehicles when the owners pay penalties that ranged from M2 500 to as much as M40 000. Those who refused to pay would watch as their cars rot at police stations. Some of the vehicles have been stripped of parts.

By some estimate SARS is holding on to nearly 5 000 such vehicles.
But that might soon change. And it’s all thanks to persistence of Joaquim Alves a South African businessman whose Lesotho registered vehicle SARS impounded in May last year.
Alves’s Lesotho registered car was being driven by a friend when SARS officials pounced on it. The revenue authority argued that the car did not have an import permit and they suspected that duties had not been paid.
However, Alves vehemently protested and retrieved his car from the municipality’s yard.

The police then charged him with theft.
SARS then confiscated the car and kept it for months until Alves sued for its release. In the meantime the police withdrew the theft charge against him.
On his lawsuit the court ruled that SARS should return his car within two days because it had failed to investigate the case within a reasonable time.
The court described the seizure as “unreasonable, arbitrary and therefore unlawful”.

Instead of complying with the order SARS held on to the car and appealed against the judgement, insisting that the seizure was unlawful.
On July 27 the Free Sate’s Appeals Court dismissed the case, ruling that the initial judgement was correct.

That means SARS has to release the vehicle.
This week Alves told thepost that SARS is yet to release the vehicle despite emails from his lawyer.
He described the ruling as a “victory for thousands of other people who have been harassed by the SARS”.

“There is no law that says a South African cannot drive a vehicle registered in another country. SARS has been illegally impounding the vehicles to make money,” Alves said.
“This is one case that I will take all the way to the highest court because I believe SARS is violating people’s rights. They have no business taking those vehicles.”

Advocate Mkhosi Radebe, Alves’s lawyer, said the ruling has serious implications for SARS.
“It’s clear that Section 88 of the Customs and Excise Act that SARS has been relying on to impound and detain those vehicles has become untenable,” Advocate Radebe said.

The clause says a revenue officer, magistrate or police officer is allowed to “detain any ship, vehicle, plant, material or goods at any place for the purpose of establishing whether” they are liable to forfeiture”.
“The judgement means SARS is compelled investigate a case and release a vehicle within a reasonable time. What has been happening is that SARS would hold a vehicle for years unless you pay a punitive penalty,” Advocate Radebe said.

The clause, he said, gives SARS unfettered powers to impound vehicles without probable cause and charge hefty penalties to release them.
“So punitive were the penalties that most people just gave up on their vehicles.”

He explained that the vim with which SARS is pursuing the vehicles is based on the fact that the Customs and Excise Act allows an officer who impounds a car to get a 30 percent commission from the penalties.
“So pernicious is that law that they can impound your vehicle in Ficksburg, make you pay penalties, then impound it again in Ladybrand and still charge penalties.”

“I am now inviting anyone whose vehicle has been unjustifiably impounded by SARS to be part of the lawsuit that will go all the way to the highest court. Such a class action is urgent. Ideally, SARS should be releasing all the cars it impounded.”

Advocate Radebe said SARS has been deliberately misinterpreting the law by insisting that South Africans driving vehicles registered in SACU countries should have import permits.
“That is totally wrong because an import is a good on which customs duty is supposed to be paid. We all know that duties on those cars have been paid in their countries of registration within SACU. They cannot be liable for duty simply because South Africans have bought or are driving them.”

“What is at stake here is that banks and automobile companies feel threatened by the vehicles from other SACU countries. Their market share and profit is under pressure so they are fighting back.”
South Africa has some of the most expensive cars in southern Africa. Many South Africans have resorted to buying cars from SACU countries which they register through third parties.
Some have registered the vehicles through their companies.

Staff Reporter

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Doctor tampers with corpse

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THE Mokhotlong Government Hospital has agreed to pay M200 000 as compensation to the husband of a deceased patient after a doctor unlawfully tampered with the corpse.

There is a deed of settlement between the hospital and Jacob Palime, the deceased woman’s husband.

Jacob Palime rushed to the High Court in Tšifa-li-Mali last year after the hospital failed to explain why the doctor had tampered with his wife’s corpse at a private mortuary behind his back.

His wife’s body had been taken to the Lesotho Funeral Services.
Palime lives in Phahameng in Mokhotlong.

In his court papers, Palime was demanding M500 000 in compensation from the hospital “for unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with” his rituals and rights over his dead wife.

He informed the court that his wife died in September 2020 at Mokhotlong Hospital.

“All requisite documentation pertaining to her release to Lesotho Funeral Services were effected and ultimately the deceased was accordingly transferred to the mortuary,” Palime said.

The court heard that Palime’s family was subsequently informed about the wife’s death.

The family however learnt that one doctor, acting in his professional capacity, went to the mortuary the next day and tampered with the corpse.

The doctor subsequently conducted certain tests on the corpse without the knowledge of family members.

Palime said their attempts to get an explanation from the hospital as to the purpose of the tests and the name of the doctor had failed to yield results.

“It remained questionable and therefore incomprehensible as to what actually was the purpose or rationale behind conducting such anonymous and secret tests,” he said.

Palime told the court that the whole thing left him “in an unsettled state of mind for a long time”.

He said his family, which has its traditions and culture rooted in the respect for their departed loved ones, regards and considers Mokhotlong Hospital’s conduct as an unlawful invasion, intrusion and interference with his rituals and rights over his deceased spouse.

“This is more-so because the hospital had all the opportunity to have conducted any or such alleged tests immediately upon demise of the deceased while still within its area of jurisdiction and not after her release to the mortuary,” he said.

Palime said despite incessant demands, the hospital has failed, refused, ignored and neglected to cooperate with him “to amicably solve this unwarranted state of affairs”.

Palime told the court that there were no claims against the Lesotho Funeral Service as they had cooperated and compensated him for wrongly allowing the doctor to perform tests on the corpse without knowledge or presence of one of the family members.

’Malimpho Majoro

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Villagers whipped as police seize guns

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Dozens of villagers in Ha-Rammeleke in Khubelu, Mokhotlong, were on Monday night rounded up and beaten with sticks and whips by the police during an operation to seize illegal guns.

The villagers told thepost that they heard one man crying out for help saying his wife was sick. And when they rushed to his house, they found the police waiting for them.

The police had stormed the man’s house and ordered him to “cry for help” to lure men from the village.

The men and women were then frog-marched outside the village where the police assaulted the men with sticks, whips, and kicked them.

One man said when he arrived at the house, he found other villagers who were now surrounded by armed police.

“At first I thought they were soldiers but later picked up that they were SOU (Special Operations Unit) members,” he said.

He said they were subjected to severe torture.

“They beat us with sticks at the same time demanding guns from us,” he said.

The police and soldiers also raided other nearby villages in Khubelu area but in Ha-Rammeleke villagers say they identified only police from the Special Operations Unit (SOU).

Several villagers who spoke to thepost asked for anonymity for fear of retribution.

This was the second time within a month that the security forces have raided the villages in search of illegal guns after a spate of gory murders in the areas.

The murders are perpetrated by famo music gangs who are fighting over illegal gold mining in South Africa.

The first raid was on Wednesday preceding Good Friday.

Villagers say a group of armed soldiers stormed the place in the wee hours collecting almost every one to the chief’s place.

“We were woken-up by young soldiers who drove us to the chief’s place,” one resident of Ha-Rammeleke said.

When they arrived at the chief’s home all hell broke loose.

A woman told thepost that they were split into two groups of women and men.

Later, women were further split into two groups of the elderly and younger ones.

She said the security officers assaulted the men while ordering the elderly women to ululate.

Young women were ordered to run around the place like they were exercising.

She said the men were pushed into a small hut where they were subjected to further torture.

A man who was among the victims said the army said they should produce the guns and help them identify the illegal miners.

He said this happened after one man in their village was fatally shot by five unknown men in broad daylight.

He said the men who killed the fellow villager had their faces covered with balaclavas and they could not see who they were.

 

The villagers chased them but they could not get close to them because they were armed with guns.

“We were armed with stones while those men were armed with guns,” he said.

“They fired a volley of bullets at us and we retreated,” he said.

The murdered man was later collected by the police.

The army spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Sakeng Lekola, confirmed that soldiers stormed Khubelu area in response to the rampant lawlessness of unlicensed guns.

Lt Col Lekola said their presence in the area followed two incidents of shootings where one man was fatally shot and a child sustained serious gunshot wounds.

“There were reports everywhere, even on the radios, that things were out of hand in Khubelu,” he said.

He said in just a day they managed to collect six guns that were in wrong hands together with more than 100 rounds (bullets) in an operation dubbed Deuteronomy 17.

These bullets included 23 rounds of Galil rifle.

Lt Col Lekola maintained that their operation was successful because they managed to collect guns from wrong hands.

He said they are doing this in line with the African Union principle of ‘silencing the guns’.

He said it is an undeniable fact that statistics of people killed with guns is disturbing.

“We appeal to these people to produce these unlicensed guns,” Lt Col Lekola said.

Lt Col Lekola said they could not just watch Basotho helplessly as they suffered.

He said some people are seen just flaunting their guns.

“They fear no one,” he said.

Police spokesman, Senior Superintendent Kabelo Halahala, said he was aware of the operation in Mokhotlong but did not have further details.

Majara Molupe

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Magistrate saves WILSA boss

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A Maseru magistrate, Nthabiseng Moopisa, this week stayed the criminal prosecution of Advocate ’Mamosa Mohlabula who is accused of tax evasion, money laundering and corruption.

In her application Advocate Mohlabula, who is the director of Women and Law in Southern Africa (WILSA), said the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should not charge her pending finalisation of her tax evasion case.

Advocate Mohlabula is out on bail after she was formally charged with tax evasion in July last year.

She told Magistrate Moopisa that the DPP, Advocate Hlalefang Motinyane, was wrong to have agreed with the Director General of the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Offences (DCEO) to bring charges against her.

“In my viewpoint, the DCEO cannot be heard to charge me in relation to matters already seized with this Honourable Court,” she said in an affidavit.

She also said there is a pending civil case in the High Court in which the DCEO’s abuse of power is referenced, saying the precise way the case is handled will depend “on the way an alleged offence comes to the light”.

“Before that pending case is finalised, DCEO has no jurisdiction to detail me to court over isolated phenomenon of tax evasion and or over grievances of former employees of WILSA,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula was charged together with the WILSA’s chief accounting officer.

She argued that it was WILSA that was being investigated, not individuals, further saying that was “a significant safeguard that the DCEO was impartial from an objective viewpoint”.

“To exclude any legitimate doubt in this respect the DCEO returned the items it seized from WILSA,” she said.

“This was a realistic and practical step towards administering justice and to avoid premature embarrassment to the management of WILSA.”

She said the Board of Trustees of WILSA were sent briefing notes which in certain respects reflected that the DCEO returned the properties of WILSA without warning them that they were suspects.

“In any event, we proceeded to fashion our arguments before the High Court. There was, and could be, no evidence to back up the decision of the DCEO to apply for the search warrant,” she said.

Advocate Mohlabula said before they took the matter to the High Court, she cooperated with the DCEO and it conducted an inquiry into the alleged crimes.

“Now that the matter is pending before the High Court, there is no more reason for the DCEO to remand me before the pending cases are finalised,” she said.

Staff Reporter

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