VAT and Common Law Theft

A recent decision has created some interest in whether the taxpayers failing to pay over the correct amounts of VAT can be charged – in addition to other statutory crimes prescribed by the VAT Act, 89 of 1991 – with the common law crime of theft.

In Director of Public Prosecutions, Western Cape v Parker[1] the Director of Public Prosecutions (“DPP”) appealed a decision by the Western Cape High Court that Parker, in his capacity as sole representative of a close corporation, had not committed common law theft in relation to the misappropriation of VAT due and payable by the close corporation to SARS. (Parker had been convicted of common law theft earlier in the Bellville Regional Court and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment, which conviction he appealed to the High Court.)

The Supreme Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal by the DPP as related to the charge of common law theft levied against Parker as related to the misappropriation of VAT amounts, due and payable to SARS. Essentially to succeed, the DPP had to show that the monies not paid over to SARS were in law monies received and held effectively by VAT vendors as agents or in trust on behalf of SARS, i.e. that SARS had established ownership over such funds even before it having being paid over. The court directed that no relationship could be established whereby VAT amounts due were received and held by VAT vendors prior to payment thereof over to SARS. In other words, the DPP could not show that Parker had misappropriated property which belonged to another – an essential element of common law theft that had to be present to secure a conviction.

VAT remains a tax in the proper sense of the word: monies received from customers were that of the taxpayer. Only once monies were paid over to SARS did it become SARS’ property. Even when the VAT in question became payable, such obligation did not per se create a right of ownership over the funds for SARS. Admittedly SARS has a legal claim against the taxpayer for an amount of tax, but it cannot be said to have established right of ownership over any specific funds held by the taxpayer.

It should be noted that Parker only appealed his conviction of common law theft. He was also convicted in the Regional Court of those crimes provided for in the VAT Act (section 28(1)(b) read with section 58(d)) which he did not appeal. His sentence in this regard was maintained, being either a fine of R10,000 of two years’ imprisonment, suspended for four years.

[1] [2015] 1 All SA 525 (SCA)

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)




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IC Marais

Professional experience:

IC Marais is a certified CA (SA) with public sector and private sector technical knowledge based on 5 years’ Public Sector accounting, auditing and financial management experience and 5 years audit, tax and accounting experience. Detailed knowledge of private and public sector accounting and auditing standards (GRAP, IPSAS, IFRS, IAS, ISA) and public sector financial legislation (MFMA, etc.)

He enjoys the outdoors, hunting and fishing.


Professional experience:

In 1995, Schalk started as a trainee at Warner and Newton (which became Moores Rowland in 1997 and then Mazars Moores Rowland in 2007) in Bloemfontein. In 1998, Schalk was appointed as manager at Moores Rowland, where he became a partner in 2003. Schalk received his Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Taxation in 2006 and in 2009 he received his Certificate in the Administration of Estates.


Professional experience:

Cedric started as a trainee at Warner and Newton (which became Moores Rowland in 1997 and Mazars Moores Rowland in 2007), Bloemfontein, in 1986. After completion of his articles, he joined the Special Investigations Division of the Department of Finance (SA Revenue Services) as a senior inspector from 1990 to 1991.


Professional experience:

Lucha started her career as a tax inspector at the Inland Revenue Department of New Zealand. After this she worked in commerce in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

On her return to South Africa, she completed her CA training contract with us and has been with Newtons ever since. She became a Partner in 2012.

Apart from her CA(SA) qualification she also holds a postgraduate certificate in Advanced Taxation (2005) and has the overall responsibility for training as our Training Officer.