Sharks defend Smit, financial issues

Date published: October 21 2014

Claims by an ex employee that the Sharks have bigger tax problems than those which led to her dismissal have been dismissed by the union.

Claims by a former employee that the Sharks have bigger tax headaches than those which led to her dismissal have no basis, according to the chairman of the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union, Stephen Saad.

The Sunday Tribune reported that Leigh Heard, the Durban-based union’s former chief operations officer, had been fired for a host of misdemeanours following the outcome of a recent disciplinary hearing.

It said that a 47-page report, which was leaked to them over the past week, detailed a litany of apparent unethical financial practices spanning more than a decade.

“These claims were assessed and were deemed to be neither serious and in our opinion defensible,” Saad said on Tuesday.

“Avoidance or minimising one’s tax liability legally is an acceptable practice.

“Nothing was done by the Sharks to benefit an individual at the expense of the company.”

In May this year, a forensic investigation of the Sharks’ finances had been instituted to look into how the union was run under former chief executive Brian van Zyl, who was at the helm from 1994 until February this year when he retired and was replaced by ex-Springbok captain John Smit.

The main allegation against Heard was that, on being awarded an expense allowance, she used the account to process personal expenses, therefore avoiding PAYE and VAT, according to the report.

But she insisted she was only doing what everyone else within the administration was doing.

She also claimed she was unfairly targeted and questioned while other so-called infringements like scouting fees, image rights payments to players and non-payment of taxes by members of the board for honorarium allowances were overlooked.

However, Saad said, “her summary dismissal was totally justified”.

He did agree, though, that the union’s reputation had been damaged by the incident. He said closure on the matter would soon follow, once Heard’s case was finalised by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA), to whom she had turned in a final attempt to save her position.

“It’s true that any negative publicity is not good for the Sharks,” said Saad.

“That said, we would hope that the public would respect the stand taken by the Sharks on good governance and commitment to transparency to protect an iconic brand.

“It would have been easier to simply sweep it under the carpet.”

The Sharks’ chief also insisted that CEO Smit had the full backing of the board despite his arrival seemingly coinciding with problems both off and on the field, where head coaches John Plumtree, Brendan Venter and Jake White had all left.

“One might argue that John is as good as what he inherited,” he said.

“But John enjoys the full support of the board, particularly in light of the latent issues that he has been instrumental in bringing out.

“He brings fresh impetus and has the support of not only the players but the board as well.

“He has had many unforeseen issues to manage both on and off the field. John is acutely aware of his responsibilities and has shown maturity and leadership beyond his years.

“The Sharks are extremely fortunate to have a leader of both his stature and integrity.”