SARS goes after business tycoon Christo Wiese

Former Steinhoff chairperson Christo Wiese during an interview at his Clifton home on April 28, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Former Steinhoff chairperson Christo Wiese during an interview at his Clifton home on April 28, 2018 in Cape Town, South Africa.
Image: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Edrea du Toit

South African business tycoon Christo Wiese has been drawn into an alleged elaborate tax dodging scheme under scrutiny by the South African Revenue Service.

Investigative journalism team amaBhungane on Thursday published details of a complex web of transactions involving Africa’s largest law firm‚ ENSafrica‚ and multinational oil company Tullow Oil.

The details were laid out in hundreds of pages of documents at the High Court in Cape Town‚ in which SARS outlined its case‚ describing how ENS allegedly devised a way for Tullow‚ which had been restructured‚ to get assets worth R3.9 billion out of South Africa‚ without paying certain taxes.

“Tullow’s restructure left ENS in charge of a holding company that contained a tax shelter‚ which ENS then sold to Wiese. When SARS came knocking‚ Wiese allegedly moved assets out of the company and sold it to a then ENS partner who told SARS there were no cash or assets left to claim‚” said the report by amaBhungane. 

“Now SARS is going after Wiese‚ the former ENS man and two others personally for R217-million‚ part of a R3.7-billion tax claim rooted in the Tullow restructure‚” said the report.

Investigative journalist Craig McKune‚ one of the authors of the report‚ told EWN  on Thursday that Wiese had denied the allegations.

“We spoke to him on email and he told us he has nothing to do with the restructure of the oil firm. SARS has accused him and that oil firm of basically colluding and bartering tax benefits but Wiese denies that‚” he said.

The Sunday Times reported in 2012 that SARS had slapped the supermarket magnate with a R2 billion tax bill – at the time the largest single tax claim yet lodged in South Africa.

Wiese was targeted for allegedly under-declaring income in a labyrinth of companies and trusts.

Wiese said he had nothing to hide and emphasised that not once in his career was he found to have short-changed the fiscus.

Wiese‚ at the time‚ told the Sunday Times: “I’ve been in business for 50 years‚ have you ever seen me lose a tax case? No‚ I haven’t. Do you think that for 50 years‚ SARS has not been aware of my existence? I’m not hiding anywhere‚ so if you think I owe you money‚ send me the bill.”

AmaBhungane said on Thursday that details of tax disputes were usually protected by tax secrecy laws‚ but because Wiese’s matter had surfaced in an open court‚ the public were able to get a rare view of the role allegedly played by lawyers and tax advisors in helping people and companies to “avoid tax”.

ENS tax head Peter Dachs had denied there was tax evasion. Tullow did not respond to questions.

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