In a dramatic courtroom battle, whistleblower Angelo Agrizzi defeated the South African Revenue Service (SARS) in their attempt to recover R174 million in taxes. Agrizzi insisted that he owed nothing to the revenue service and that their claim was based on errors in double- and triple-counting revenue moving between accounts. The Gauteng High Court rejected SARS’ attempt to repatriate Agrizzi’s assets in Italy, citing that these assets were pledged as bail collateral during his arrest on fraud and corruption charges in 2020. In response, Agrizzi filed a counter-application to review SARS’ decisions regarding the repatriation of proceeds from his Italian home and their demand for taxes while the amount was being disputed.
The court ruled in favour of Agrizzi, stating that SARS must reassess the payment of claimed taxes under Section 164 of the Tax Administration Act. Agrizzi’s legal team engaged in alternative dispute resolution proceedings during the high court case, resulting in a significant reduction in the disputed amount to around R40 million. This amount was nearly R200 million less than SARS’s initial demand. Agrizzi vehemently defended his position, declaring that he owed SARS nothing because their initial claim was based on accounting errors for revenue movement between his bank accounts.
SARS became interested in Agrizzi after evidence of fraud and corruption surfaced at Bosasa, where he was chief operating officer. Bosasa, later renamed African Global Group, was accused of paying R75.7 million in bribes to secure contracts worth more than R2 billion between 2000 and 2016. Agrizzi, determined to expose corruption, testified at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
However, instead of receiving whistleblower protection, Agrizzi’s life spiralled out of control. In October 2020, he was arrested on charges of fraud and corruption and faced an attempted assassination while in prison. Despite these obstacles, Agrizzi persisted in his pursuit of justice and transparency.
The court’s decision distinguished between a ‘tax debt’ and a ‘outstanding tax debt,’ emphasising that a tax assessment is not immediately due and payable until it reaches finality, which requires raising objections and going through appeals. These procedures had not taken place in Agrizzi’s case.
Agrizzi’s claim that selling his house in Italy and repatriating his assets to South Africa would violate his bail conditions was a major point of contention. The court agreed with Agrizzi on this point, emphasising that forcing him to sell his Italian home would be a violation of his bail conditions, which should be worked out with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). The court also suggested that the NPA should have been involved in the proceedings to establish its position on Agrizzi’s bail conditions in the event of a sale.
Agrizzi believes he has paid a high price for his whistleblowing efforts, which exposed the corrupt dealings at Bosasa. Despite his difficulties, he expressed gratitude to Judge Raymond Zondo for his findings and support for whistleblowers during the State Capture Commission. Agrizzi hopes that society will recognise and value whistleblowers, preventing them from being wrongfully imprisoned as a result of the perceptions created by those they expose for state capture.