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SARS says fraudsters conducted 'search and seizure' operations at businesses

Mar 5, 2018
SARS says fraudsters conducted 'search and seizure' operations at businesses

The South African Revenue Service (SARS) is concerned about recent reports in the media of people purporting to be SARS employees entering premises of taxpayers to seize equipment, allegedly as part of a lifestyle audit.

"These persons who committed this crime were not SARS officials and their actions are unequivocally condemned," said SARS Spokesperson, Sandile Memela.

"SARS officials do use search and seizure operations to obtain evidence if there are reasonable grounds to suspect non-compliance or tax crimes.  However, a search and seizure operation by SARS is a criminal investigations tool and is not used to conduct lifestyle audits."

He said that SARS wishes to reassure citizens that search and seizure operations conducted by SARS officials are conducted in a transparent way and in accordance with strict legislation and procedures..

"Such operations are often conducted with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, such as the South African Police Service (SAPS).

"A  search and seizure operation by SARS officials requires a judge or magistrate to issue a warrant of execution. The warrant is based on reasonable grounds that the operation would provide evidence to prove suspected transgressions," Memela added.

"The application for the warrant must clearly spell out if evidence is likely to be found on the premises specified in the application. The information supporting the application must be provided under oath or solemn declaration. 

"If a warrant of execution is issued, it must contain an explanation of the suspected failure to comply or offence; the name(s) of the suspects; the addresses of the premises to be searched, as well as an explanation that material relevant to concluding the case is likely to be found on the premises."

Memela said a warrant must be executed within 45 business days, but can be extended if a judge or magistrate deems it appropriate.

"The warrant must be provided to the relevant person before the search and seizure operation can proceed. It allows a SARS official to remove documents, equipment, computers or even moveable assets such as a vehicle, aircraft or a vessel. Failure to produce a warrant entitles a person to refuse access to the officials wishing to enter the property," he added.

"In exceptional cases a search may be conducted without a warrant, if a senior SARS official believes evidence may be removed or destroyed. This can only happen if the owner or person in control of the premises gives consent.

"SARS is aware of fraudsters deploying a range of deceptions to scam unsuspecting citizens. The identity of any person claiming to be from SARS can be verified by contacting the SARS Contact Centre on 0800 00 7277."