Meet Peter Hain: Man on a mission to recover SA’s Zupta plundered billions

LONDON — Anti-apartheid icon Peter Hain is on a mission to recover billions stolen from South Africa by the crony capitalist Gupta brothers and their politically influential accomplices. The former British cabinet minister is drawing on relationships made in a long political career to mobilise European and UK government agencies to expose plundering by the Zupta network – and track where the money is now. Not surprisingly, Hain has been targeted on social media by the criminals, but in this powerful interview reminds them that he faced far worse during the apartheid era, never wilted under the pressure then and has no intention of doing so now. But Hain also warns this is a critical juncture for South Africa, one where decisions that have to be taken by the ANC in December will determine whether the nation recovers in global estimation after a spectacular “hero to zero” plunge.. – Alec Hogg

It’s a privilege to be talking to Lord Peter Hain, a man who grew up in SA, has a very strong connection with the country. Most recently he has earned the admiration of many South Africans for his activist role. Peter, you were a cabinet minister but followed that political career through serving in the House of Lords. How’s that different from the years when you had to stand for election?

I was 24 years a member of parliament being elected when general elections occurred. The House of Lords is very different. It’s mostly appointed by a combination of party leaders’ appointees, such as I was from the Labour Party, and independent commission appointees, together with 92 hereditary peers. These are people whose titles and membership of the House of Lords are passed onto their successors. So, it’s an odd institution. Personally, I think it should be at least majority elected with perhaps an independent component as well, independently appointed. But it acts as the second chamber in what is a bicameral of parliament, but the House of Commons is the superior one. The House of Lords is there mainly to scrutinise, to amend, and to improve legislation coming from the Commons, which ultimately has the final say.

Flag map of South Africa

It gives you the opportunity to raise subjects close to your heart….you’ve been doing a lot of that lately….

Yes, it does allow me to talk about things I feel strongly about and that I focus on. We can’t cover everything – or you cover nothing – and recently it’s included talking about the disastrous path Britain has taken to leave the European Union. But I have also taken the opportunity using the House of Lords’ parliamentary privilege to ask questions about the corruption and the cronyism – and in particular the money laundering resulting from all of that – in South Africa I’ve done that at the request of senior ANC figures including veterans who’ve been frustrated at the inability to track down billions of Rand. Former Finance Minister, the highly respected Pravin Gordhan thinks it could be as much as R7bn that has been money laundered abroad from the R100bn or so he thinks has been corruptly stolen from SA taxpayers. It was put to me by the senior ANC figures, frustrated at being unable to track down the laundered money, that if I could get the international financial institutions to track it from London, Brussels, and elsewhere, after they believe it having been transmitted through Dubai and Hong Kong into secret accounts. Money laundering is illegal so any bank, such as the Bank of Baroda which has a base in London so comes under UK jurisdiction and could be prosecuted here if it’s found to be cooperating with that corruptly originated laundered money.

It’s one thing being asked to do this and wanting to, but another thing entirely in executing. What has been the path that you’ve followed?

What I’ve done is ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond, the British finance minister, to refer a detailed letter that was drafted by experts in SA and sent to me. That letter contains evidence and details of individuals they believe have benefited from this laundered money together together with their identification numbers

(Ed: 11 of the 27 named are Guptas; 11 are Zumas).

In a letter to him, which he would have to take seriously. Which he did, also because I’m a former cabinet minister myself and there’s a convention that any requests, letters, or questions get particular attention rather than ones simply coming from a member of the public. I wrote to Mr Hammond at the end of September and he replied, agreeing to refer my letter to the Serious Fraud Office, the Financial Conduct Authority, and the National Crimes Agency, who all have powers to track this money down and ultimately, bring those responsible to justice. Particularly the financial institutions they supervise.

Maybe, for example, the Bank of Baroda, HSBC and Standard Chartered Banks were unwitting transmitters of this laundered money. It may well be that that’s the case. Or it may well be that some of the executives were party to it knowingly. We don’t know. I hope that the British authorities will find out. I’ve also written to the European Commission President and followed that up. It’s similar because of European banks the SA experts have briefed me on. They believe European banks are also involved and they come under EU jurisdiction.

Peter Hain
Lord Peter Hain

So, I’ve asked a socialist European MP, who’s a friend of mine, Neena Gill, to undertake some investigation. She’s already met with the EU commissioner responsible for financial and economic affairs, including customs and the movements of money, Pierre Moscovici, who’s also a friend of mine. We were Europe ministers together some years ago in our respective French and British governments. So, I think this is now getting serious attention within Brussels and I hope that those responsible for this money laundering can be identified and prosecuted and that the money, billions of Rand, can be returned to SA. I feel strongly that as a former anti-apartheid activist, the son of SA born parents and I spent my childhood in the country. I feel very strongly that this money has been stolen from taxpayers and should be returned to the SA Treasury if it can be tracked down and identified. That’s what this process is all about.

So, it is about getting money back to SA, which is extremely cash strapped at the moment. Are there any other sanctions that can be applied by say, the British authorities presuming that the investigations do turn up some of the muck that you’ve been exposed to?

Yes, they do have powers to identify it and indeed to return it, and I’m sure if the money was identified, the SA Treasury would put in a request to have it identified. I’m sure the British Treasury would want to cooperate with that. Let’s hope that that occurs. But I can’t predict whether it’s possible to track this money down. I’m, as it were, a helper in this process and not an expert. I don’t know where it’s gone and in what accounts its ended up or where it is now but the SA experts are very well able to judge. They are whistle blowers who briefed me, they’re well able to judge these things. They know all about this. They believe that in the modern digital age of money movements and financial links a trace can be found. Hence the reason for supplying the list of 27 names, including SA and companies that are linked to the Gupta empire that are believed by these experts to be conduits for money laundering. That detail supplied to the authorities, in both London and Brussels, could allow this money to be traced and identified. But I don’t know whether it will be.

Peter, you’ve also taken a great interest in Bell Pottinger, a British firm, and multinationals KPMG and McKinsey. These are big names with big operations in the UK and all around the world. Your links to SA are no doubt promoting this approach. But is there anything else behind this – maybe trying to help clean up business globally?

Well, that’s a very good question, Alec. It’s appalled me, first of all, Bell Pottinger’s behaviour. For a British based global reputation management company, and a public affairs company that advises corporations and organisations on their reputation and how they can best influence matters and get their message across. The one organisation that they didn’t seem to take any notice of was their own reputation and were unable to manage it effectively. It appalled me what they did: re-racializing debate in SA, where the very sinisterly effective campaign where they invented all these phrases about white monopoly capital, avoiding the fact conveniently their paymasters were themselves supreme examples of monopoly capital. Maybe not white but certainly parts of the business elites and extremely rich, stratospherically rich. That played to grievances that I understand and can share about the lack of economic transformation in the country, and was first fired round for these bitter seeds to be sown. It’s been very interesting for me, by the way, seeing the Bell Pottinger machine, although they have gone bankrupt and stopped doing any business in SA, their machine is still intact.

I’ve been the recipient on Twitter and elsewhere on social media, with absolute barbarous, trolling and bots, and Zupta attacks of a fraudulent kind.

Inventing pictures, completely fake photos of me meeting people, such as the DA leader, who I’ve never met. Or pictures of me with Cyril Ramaphosa, whom I have met but they were fabricated pictures. Pictures of my wife and I in bed, which were entirely fraudulent. I find it supremely ironic. Together with a lot of lies about what I’m doing now, what my motives are, what my past is, including as a government minister – just blatant lies. But what I find supremely ironic is that having been in the past, during the antiapartheid struggle, the target for huge attacks by the apartheid state on me, including sending me a letter bomb, which I received at our family home in South West London in June 1972, at the height of the anti-apartheid sports campaign.

The British police, the bomb squad, took it away and told me it would have blown me up, my family and the entire house.

It was of the same kind of bomb that assassinated Ruth First, the anti apartheid activist and wife of the ANC’s Joe Slovo in Maputo in the early 1980s. I’ve received those kinds of attacks and many more. And now I find in the modern SA that I, and many thousands of others involved in The Struggle  are the subject of similar kinds of attacks. It’s supremely ironic. But the apartheid staged attacks didn’t deflect me at the time and these attacks are not going to deflect me either. Those responsible ought to understand that they’re wasting their time.

Former Liberation Movements of Southern AfricaPeter, given that you were so targeted during The Struggle, in the SA of today, are you feeling a bit of righteous indignation as there was so much hope and so much promise for South Africa which appears to have been hijacked?

I feel deeply pained at what’s going on. It’s extremely painful and it’s a view shared by my mother (my father died a year ago). It’s shared by all the anti apartheid activists who fought so hard in London – it’s a view and a pain shared by ANC veterans who I’ve personally met and who’ve spoken out. I’m thinking of people like the late Ahmed Kathrada, and Denis Goldberg, Rivonia Trialists such as them. I’m thinking of Ronnie Kasrils the former ANC head of intelligence and minister under Mandela and Mbeki. These are veterans with impeccable struggle credentials and they are pained by what’s going. So, not surprisingly, I share that pain.

I also feel particular anger about, not just the Bell Pottinger’s of this world, but also the KPMG’s, and the McKinsey’s and others. Global or foreign companies that are actually supping and feeding at the trough of corruption and cronyism and getting fat fees to, in KPMG’s case, mount soft audits, which they’ve admitted and sacked their SA leadership. There’s lots of questions still to answer.

McKinsey seem to be up to their necks in all of this. It’s absolutely unacceptable for foreign companies to behave in this disgraceful way.

The fact that they are and have been doing so, and have admitted to doing so inside SA makes their foreign clients across the world ask questions about whether they have the same ethics elsewhere. Whether they might be in the US, in Britain, elsewhere in Europe, and wherever they operate, and they do operate globally.

This is a moment of truth for SA. It’s the moment of truth for the party that I’ve supported over many generations, the ANC, the ruling party, coming up to its conference in December. It’s the moment of truth for international businesses and the business community in SA, domestically too, as to whether everybody is going to start taking a stand against this corruption and cronyism.

Watchdogs. More of Zapiro’s brilliant work available at

What it is doing is damaging the SA economy massively, and destroying international confidence. Investors are very reluctant to commit, these days, to SA, which I find a crying shame. But I understand why. We’ve got to get rid of this by working together – all of us from those involved in the Trade Union movements and businesses, and civil society, and the churches inside SA to international friends of SA. Not just people like me, but many others. SA was the hero of the world after 1994. I’m afraid it’s fallen to zero in the eyes of many people. That’s tragic because it’s got so much to offer. It’s got so much going for it.

I’m a visiting professor at Wits Business School, which has taken me back teaching over the past year on a number of occasions. The talent in these MBA students that I’m teaching is enormous. They’re mostly African (black) but of all races, and that talent is incredible. The passion and the values there – if that can be unleashed, there is nothing that can stop SA from being a great country from reviving the economy. But you’ve got to get rid of this corruption and the leadership that is responsible for it.

And the moment of truth that you mentioned, what is the upside to that and perhaps the downside?

African National Congress (ANC)

The ANC has to change, and SA has to change, and the government has to change, or the party will die, and SA will be brought to its knees. It’s very simple. It’s straightforward. I’m not original in saying that. SA will lumber along, despite the corruption and the cronyism, but things are getting worse almost weekly in terms of the infrastructure, the efficiency of public services. The extent to which cronyism has turned once sufficient public services into inefficient dysfunctional ones is deeply, deeply worrying. Because once you start to undermine your basic services, whether it’s water or SA Airways, or Eskom, you actually begin to affect the fabric of the country. Also, in robbing the taxpayers of billions of Rands and in turning essential services, from water to electricity into dysfunctional organisations, what you’re doing is diverting resources.

I feel strongly that the money laundering billions that I want to see returned should be used in building new houses, building new schools, getting electricity, and running water to the millions who don’t have it.

Then providing a healthy context, including grants and other research and development assistance, and skills investment for the business community to be able to start growing this faltering economy again. You will never get economic transformation that I want to see, and redistribution of wealth and opportunity and greater equality in SA that I want to see. You will not get that with a shrinking economy. It’s simply impossible. The money doesn’t add up and nationalisation and expropriation doesn’t deal with that either. So, you’ve got to have a government that is actually generating the conditions for a growing economy. The basis is there in SA. Still a good financial regulation and independent judicial system. Still an active independent vigorous opposition. Still a vigorous and increasingly noisy civil society, and an independent media as well, which is terribly important in exposing all of this corruption and subject to enormous attack, and attempts to buy it up by the corrupt empires. So, there’s a lot of things going for SA that hasn’t been the case, for example, in Zimbabwe. It’s important that that resource, that talent, that decency is mobilised to good effect.

So, your optimism remains?

Yes, I still remain optimistic about SA, in the longer term. In the shorter term, this depends entirely on what happens over the coming months. I think it’s as really dramatic as that. People are always saying, ‘this is an important moment.’ This is the kind of behaviour of politicians – every election is the most important one. Every moment is really important. I speak as a politician. We tend to say these things. But I do really think that if SA doesn’t start turning the corner as from December, I think there’s a lot of trouble ahead.