Taxman wins R352m court case against businessman Mark Lifman

Mark Lifman has failed in his legal attempt to stop the SA Revenue Service seizing more than R352m it says he owes.
Mark Lifman has failed in his legal attempt to stop the SA Revenue Service seizing more than R352m it says he owes.
Image: Alon Skuy

The high court has ended a five-year cat-and-mouse chase between alleged Cape Town mafioso Mark Lifman and the taxman over more than R352m.

The SA Revenue Service has been trying to recover the money from the businessman and his 35 companies and trusts since 2014 but it has been hamstrung by a series of lawsuits brought by Lifman.

On Tuesday, the high court in Cape Town dismissed the businessman's application to stop the sale of his properties.

Judge Elizabeth Baartman said: "There is no indication that an injustice will result from a failure to suspend the execution.

"On the contrary, this application appears to be an abuse of the process. It follows that there are no exceptional circumstances justifying a stay of the execution proceedings."

Sars launched an inquiry into Lifman and his companies' tax affairs in 2014 when he was  late filing VAT and tax returns.

He was fined R180,000 for "his alleged failure to, among others, supply relevant information".

His other entities submitted some of the outstanding income tax and VAT returns, and Sars found they owed more than R13.2m which was payable immediately but was never paid.

Litigation ensued in April 2015 and Sars was granted orders to seize the companies' properties. They then brought an urgent application to have the judgments set aside or suspended.

The high court dismissed the application two months later and Sars arranged to seize the properties in execution. A few days later the companies brought an application for leave to appeal the court ruling, but did not follow up on the court action.

"Sars intervened and the application for leave to appeal was set down for November 9 2015," Baartman said.

"However, the companies withdrew the application for leave to appeal two days before the hearing."

As Sars resumed the execution process, Lifman launched yet another urgent application to stop it. This was dismissed with "a punitive costs order".  Lifman complained that Sars officials had mistreated him.

"Lifman alleged that he had on more than one occasion complained that Sars officials are acting in an untoward and subjective manner," Baartman said.

But Baartman said Lifman could not "elevate a complaint about 'treatment received' to a ground of review". After the 2015/2016 tax assessment, Sars found that Lifman's entities owed more than R350m.

"[Lifman and his companies] did not lodge any objection …"  said Baartman. "Instead, it seems that the initial dissatisfaction was about treatment received which [the companies] have belatedly and opportunistically sought to raise as an objection against the assessments.

"That is not permissible; it follows that on this ground, the application must also fail. The assessment are undisputed, final, due and payable."


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