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SARS is targeting South Africans who have ‘unexplained’ wealth

South African Revenue Service (SARS) commissioner Edward Kieswetter says that the revenue collector has profiled a number of high-net-worth individuals who enjoy a ‘luxurious’ lifestyle and demonstrate unexplained wealth when compared to their income.

In a media briefing this week, Kieswetter said that SARS has the ability to access a number of databases that track high-ticket items, such as luxury cars and expensive property.

The commissioner said that SARS has the ability to access a number of databases that track high-ticket items, such as luxury cars and expensive property. The revenue collector then does capital reconciliation back to the income statement, he said.

Kieswetter said that it is often the case that more information can be established from the assets and liabilities of these wealthy individuals, as opposed to the income and expenses that they declare.

He added that in certain cases, a civil investigation into an individual who is undeclaring an income, turns into a criminal investigation as the person’s illicit dealings become clear.

In line with the work of the Davis Tax Committee, Kieswetter said that SARS will also increasingly focus on wealthy individuals over the next year.

“SARS is aware of increasing number of south Africans who have financial assets offshore, they have more than R400 billion rand in offshore accounts. We’ve identified around 10% of that, but we believe there’s still a lot to be explained,” Kieswetter.

He said that this will focus on closing the ‘tax gap’, with an estimated R400 billion held overseas by wealthy South Africans which is undeclared.

The tax committee, headed by Judge Dennis Davis, has given its support to lifestyle audits for wealthy South Africans as a means of clamping down on tax avoidance.

Davis added that a clear definition of ‘wealth’ needed to be established and that lifestyle audits would help with collecting information on the assets of the wealthy.

Highlighting the importance of lifestyle audits in March, Davis said that the tax committee recently did a study on a group of people “with very fancy Ferraris parked outside a hotel”.

The person he was working with at SARS took down the registration numbers of the 26 Ferraris and looked at how much tax they pay.

What it revealed was that not one of the owners returned a taxable income of more than R400,000 per year, or R34,000 per month.

Davis highlighted that it is not possible to fund a lavish lifestyle, like driving an expensive Ferrari, on an income of only R400,000 per year.

He said SARS’ data shows that only 5,000 South Africans report taxable income of R5 million or more.

“That makes no sense to me. I invite people to drive in Sandton, Bryanston, Camps Bay, and Bishopscourt – you have to be earning significant amounts to afford houses in these areas,” he said.

He said the country is losing more than R100 billion each year – around 10% of South Africa’s total tax income – from people and businesses dodging tax.

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