Meet Peter Hain: The British Lord obsessed with exposing Zupta corruption

LONDON — Lord Peter Hain has proved to be one of the most potent of the many weapons in South Africa’s anti-corruption army. A former Labour Party cabinet minister who graduated from the long-haired activist who led the isolation of apartheid SA sports teams, the 67 year old peer has lost little of his vigour. I watched him inject enthusiasm into a debate in the House of Lords last night, and then met with him shortly after he had delivered another headline-making speech – this time by exposing two more multinational banks implicated in facilitating Zupta money laundering. As you’ll hear, Hain was in top form. He has also called on his government to launch investigations into the UK bank accounts held by SA state owned enterprises. In this fascinating interview, Hain explains what he is trying to achieve and why he is driving his “name and shame” agenda so hard. Riveting.  – Alec Hogg

Well, I’m at the House of Lords with a Lord – Lord Peter Hain. I’ve just watched your performance in the House of Lords, Peter. How often do you get the opportunity to take the floor in that way?

Well, I spoke for example, on the UK budget on Monday but that was on the British economy. There happens to be a Money Laundering Bill going through the House of Lords at the present time and so I’ve taken the opportunity for the first occasion and second reading on the 1st of November and then today, on the 6th of December to actually expose the money laundering that has been going on from the Gupta and Zuma families with evidence that is supplied to me, which I obviously check and re-shape for a speech. Expert evidence by people within the system who know what is going on and are encouraging me (or asking me) to surface it. It doesn’t happen that often but I hope to speak again next week if I get the opportunity, with further revelations if these are forthcoming. I feel very strongly that South Africa is in the grip of a corrupt crony elite. We’ve heard about White Monopoly Capital. This is a Corrupt Crony Monopoly Elite and it is in danger of so seriously destroying all prospects for the economy, which is a resilient economy and can get through this I’m sure, but there’s massive damage being done (investor confidence being damaged) and thousands and thousands of people who should be in jobs, denied that opportunity. The poorest of the poor being exploited, houses not being built, hospitals not being built, doctors not being trained, schools not being properly equipped, teachers not being properly trained, which all could be done with these billions that are being corruptly laundered.

The last time you spoke here on the 1st of November on this subject, you were on the front page of the Financial Times the next day – all over the British newspapers. Today, you followed that up with some pretty explosive exposés. I hope, for South Africa’s sake, that you get the same kind of treatment. Just take us through some of the stuff that you said in your speech and in fact, some of the stuff that you said ad-lib, which was probably just as powerful.

Well, what I’ve done in the speech today, (with the assistance of analysts and experts who provided me with the material) is look at the role of state-owned enterprises…the systematic looting of those enterprises (Eskom, SAA, and others) and South Africans – informed South Africans of all colours – will know this, but it hasn’t been brought to the attention of the British public. Then the link between those state-owned enterprises, which have international arms e.g. South African Airways operating here in London and having bank accounts and offices here in London, etcetera: are these being used for money laundering as well? It’s quite clear that SAA has been looted of billions of Rand, just like Eskom has and that’s partly why they’re in debt – serious debt, which taxpayers are bailing out money that could be spent on essential/vital needs. That’s what I’ve revealed in the House of Lords today and I did so from a prepared text, which has been circulated to the media but I’ve also ad-libbed as you described it because I thought it necessary to just fill in some of the detail. For example, in the evidence passed to the Financial Conduct Authority, the Treasury here in London and the Serious Fraud Office, etcetera was HSBC material (printouts) containing evidence of the Zupta accounts. Some of those Gupta brothers’ relatives (not themselves, as far as I’m aware) were actually using HSBC debit cards to spend on common or garden things here in Britain such as food at motorway stations, etcetera. The cost of coffee type of expenditure: in itself, quite harmless but where did this money come from? What is it doing over here and was it looted? Probably, given the record. I think the ability, which you can utilise (and I do it very seriously and carefully, and check what material I’m being supplied with as best I can) so that it is delivered with a matter of integrity but therefore, under Parliamentary Privilege.  

Lord Peter Hain

What does that mean?

What it means is that there’s no legal redress. I can’t be sued or attacked by any of the people that I’m accusing because of course, the Gupta brothers have got vast wealth and could use laws against whistleblowers, against me, and against others. I don’t think it would be very wise for them to try and target me but who knows. They’re doing so on social media, as BizNews has exposed before, quite aggressively with a lot of the Zupta-bots. By the way, straight out of the Bell Pottinger machine, which is obviously still intact despite Bell Pottinger’s demise, and deserved demise. I think it’s really important that increasingly President Zuma, his family, and the Gupta brothers and their empire realise that the people are going to come for them. They’ve got resources, they’re ruthless about deploying those resources and I’ve no doubt that that will continue to be the case. I want to see a situation where there’s nowhere for them to hide internationally because in the end it is the pattern of despots and corrupt leaders and corrupt business executives to launder their money abroad, where it cannot be tracked down, and they, themselves, be brought to account therefore. Then again, suck it back in through other avenues and this is what happened in the Vrede dairy farm case, which I exposed on the 1st November, newly to a British audience. Of course, it had been well researched and exposed inside SA.

I saw that the Financial Times picked that up last weekend in the FT Magazine, picked up your lead on that. That tends to happen – you expose it in parliament and the media here quite like picking up on the thread. Just by way of understanding though. You did stand up a few times and engage with the government minister. Just explain how all of that works and what exactly it was that you were asking him, this is after your prepared speech?

First of all, Alec, you are quite right. The Financial Times did a major analysis in its Saturday weekend edition just a few days ago. That came directly after and following my speech on the 1st November. They contacted me and I provided them with some leads to follow up. The same is being done by The Economist. I think that’s still to be published, maybe this week or next week, and they do very serious research. They have a very good editorial journalist who is doing the job.

Those are power-packed publications.

Yes, they are very important voices for business opinion and opinion informers, (The Financial Times), they’re global media. They have a global media reach, both The Financial Times and The Economist so, I think the Zumas and the Guptas should be very concerned about this. Now, as regards with the way that things went that you observed being present and a special guest in the actual Chamber itself, which is a unique experience. What I did, having delivered my speech and the minister responding to it. I actually asked him specifically to reassure me that the Santander, Barclays Bank, and the other British banks that I placed under the label of ‘correspondent banks.’ That’s to say, not necessarily frontline avenues, or conduits for money laundering like HSBC and Standard Chartered and the Bank of Baroda undoubtedly have been, but part of a chain. I asked him specifically to reassure me that they be red-flagged by the authorities and that would happen. He was put on the spot because he hadn’t been expecting it, and I understand that. I’ve been a minister myself and if something comes out of the blue you’ve got to respond very carefully rather than off the cuff. So, I’ve asked him to write to me, to reassure me that that is happening. Just as the chancellor replied to me when I wrote to him in late September with all the evidence that I supplied then. We will keep up the pressure as long as I’m still getting material, I will continue to be able to expose it here but I’m not a one-person global investigator – I’m me and I have no research facilities other than myself, or those who are expert and whom I trust supporting me.

More magic at

Why are you doing this?

I’m doing it because having been brought up in SA, as the son and I’m proud to say, of very brave anti-apartheid parents. Both SA born, my mum and dad, Adelaine and Walter Hain, who sacrificed a great deal. Not nearly as much as those who went to Robben Island or those who suffered immeasurably more, but sacrificed a great deal. As young white South Africans from no political background at all. I describe their story in a book that was published a few years ago, called ‘Ad & Wal, Values, Duties, Sacrifice in Apartheid SA.’ I was inspired by them and we were forced to come into exile because the apartheid government stopped my dad working. Having jailed and banned both my parents, they simply stopped him working as an architect and so, we had no alternative but to come into exile. Then a few years later I was involved in a leadership role in disrupting the Springbok tours, whites only sports teams, which were put into international isolation until the change happened.

So, having with many others, and many others feel exactly the same way as I do that those involved in the anti-apartheid struggle, some playing far more important roles than I did or my parents did. We feel deeply pained by the betrayal of the values of that struggle, and that’s what motivates me. I still identify with SA very much, I’m a British citizen and I’ve lived in Britain for 51 years of my 67 years. I’m British but a big part of my heart is still in SA, and it’s this betrayal of Mandela’s legacy. It’s the betrayal of the freedom struggle’s values of justice, inequality, and integrity, human rights, and democracy, and probity – all of those values are just being completely traduced and ignored in a quite shameless way. The thing about the Zupta operation that strikes me almost more than anything else is not just its malevolence and its greed but actually, its shamelessness. There’s material surfaced almost every other day in BizNews, or Daily Maverick, or ‘The Mail & Guardian,’ or other organs of SA media who themselves are intimidated, including you, Alec, and including BizNews but they take no notice. It’s just as if they’ve got a steel wall around them that they just motor on looting regardless. We’ve already seen the economy downgraded. We’ve already seen growth, actually negative if you take account of population rise. We’re seeing unemployment rising. We’re seeing investor confidence at an all time low since the dog-ears of apartheid, when it was very low, and this doesn’t need to happen.

I teach MBA students in Johannesburg, at Wits Business School, where I’m a visiting professor. These are really talented people with really good values, and typically a class of 40, two-thirds are black and the rest are mixed with different racial groupings. I’m just struck by the talent and the potential there, and the enormous potential of the SA economy still has, despite the battering under President Zuma that its received, of debt rising, the deficit rising, unemployment rising, growth plummeting, inflation high and so on. There’s so much talent and there’s so much that SA can still achieve, and must achieve if you are to realise the rightful demands and expectations of the citizens.

qnPeter, just looking ahead. In two weeks’ time, we’ll know who the next leader or the new ANC president will be. It’s just around the corner. The pressure is heating up in SA. Clearly, there’s a camp that wants to perpetuate the status quo and it’s touch and go at the moment, who will come in. If you were in a room full of ANC cadres, people who respect you, what would your message to them be?

Well, it was ANC stalwarts who asked me to undertake the missions that I’ve undertaken. I’m close to the ANC and have been now for decades. I was involved here in London, during the anti-apartheid movement struggle here with ANC comrades, including Thabo Mbeki, Aziz Pahad, Essop Pahad, Lawson Naidoo and many others, and they asked me to undertake this mission. My message would be – there has to be change at the leadership level. I’ve not spoken for or against any candidate in the race, involved in the election or for the presidency of the ANC because that’s not my place to do so. If I were a SA citizen involved in the ANC that would be a different matter but what I think everybody has to understand is that this is a moment of truth for the country.

If it’s more of the same their country will get more of the same. It will get more damage to the economy. Further downgrades in credit status, (if that’s possible) to junk status. It will get more and more unemployment. Corruption will continue to be rampant and the cronyism, putting people in charge of Eskom or SAA or Transnet, or Local Government and Municipal Government, the Government as a whole, who can’t do their jobs is almost as important as the corruption because it’s part of the same disease. That has to stop and I tell you that if it doesn’t stop, and this is what I’ve discussed and they know it, (my ANC comrades) – the ANC will die. The party of Mandela, and Sisulu, and Kathrada and Mbeki, Ronnie Kasrils, and Joe Slovo, Mavuso Msimang, and all of those people – the ANC will die. All that promise of the ‘Rainbow Nation’ and Nelson Mandela’s stewardship at the time, all that promise when SA was the hero of the world will just never be achieved again so, I think the stakes are very high and the global economy is an unforgiving place.

Here in the UK the stakes are higher after your speech today. First of all, it was HSBC. Now you’ve named Barclays and Santander, those are massive multinational banks. What happened last time around with HSBC? Did they at least try and engage you and are you expecting something like that might happen now that Barclays and Santander have been brought into the picture?

A red pedestrian crossing light shines next to a HSBC Holdings Plc bank branch in London, U.K., on Tuesday, May 2, 2017. Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

HSBC have already engaged with me. I’ve met their senior executives and I’ve told them what I’ve done. They’re having a major investigation but I have warned them as well, and the same will go. Santander contacted me today, having learnt that I would name them, and I’m happy to engage with anybody but I will just say to them, ‘stop denials.’ Bell Pottinger denied, KPMG denied, McKinsey denied, SAP denied – they always deny and then they admit. Better not to deny. Better to get to the root of the problem and stop it at its source. That’s my message to them. Yes, the temperatures heated up and a lot of people are running around in circles because of what I’ve said. Well, the responsibility is with them. I know it’s tough sometimes for banks to identify money laundering. Now, HSBC have told me they’ve already closed, as a result of my interventions, some Zupta accounts so that’s good. I think there will be many more under other names and aliases, and so on.

So long as I’m given the material my pressure will be relentless on these people because we’re already seeing, as I say, with the existing culpable corporates, from Bell Pottinger through to McKinsey. Where the same story of denial is followed by admission – don’t deny, just go, and investigate and eliminate any contact with the Zumas or Guptas, and isolate them. Frankly that’s what’s got to happen, they’ve got to be isolated so they realise that they can’t do business anywhere. If they want to continue looting the country they can’t do anything with the money.

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