On Monday, the South African Revenue Services (SARS) issued a statement warning the public of several reports of fraudsters pretending to be SARS employees in order to enter the premises of taxpayers and seize equipment as past of a “lifestyle audit”.
A lifestyle audit is a study of a person’s living standards to see if it is consistent with his or her reported income.
SARS has clarified that although it does take use of search and seizure operations to obtain evidence when there are reasonable grounds to suspect noncompliance or tax crimes, it is not a tool used to conduct lifestyle audits.
“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,” the statement read.
According to the statement, SARS-sanctioned search and seizure operations are conducted with the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, such as the South African Police Service. These procedures also requires a judge or magistrate to issue a warrant of execution.
The application for this warrant must clearly state if evidence is likely to be discovered at the location stipulated in the application, and the information supporting this application must be provided under solemn declaration or oath.
If a warrant of execution is issued, it must contain en explanation of the suspected failure to comply, as well as the name of the suspect, address of the premises to be searched, as well as an explanation as to why the material at the location is relevant to concluding the case. The warrant must also be executed within 45 business days. It can, however, be extended by a magistrate or judge if deemed appropriate.
The warrant must also be provided to the relevant person before the search and seizure may proceed. This allows SARS officials to remove documents, computers, equipments or even mass movable assets such as vehicles or aircrafts. If a warrant is not produced, a person may refuse access to the officials who wish to enter the property.
A senior SARS official may conduct a search without a warrant if the official believes evidence may be removed or destroyed by the person under investigation. These cases, however, are the exception and do not happen often and may also proceed if the person in control of the premises gives his or her consent.
According to the statement, 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.