It was exactly a month ago that Vytjie Mentor’s now famous Facebook post started unravelling the Zupta empire. Her disclosure that she. too, had been offered a conditions-attached post in the Zuma cabinet by the Gupta brothers, emboldened Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas whose official statement came soon thereafter. Things have happened really quickly since, punctuated by the heavily-laden Gupta jet’s midnight flit to Dubai a week ago. Nazeem Howa, the Gupta mothership Oakbay’s CEO, has been left holding the baby in South Africa. But he is getting short shrift from local banks, his first approach receiving a deny response to his meeting request. The only surprise about that is that Howa himself is surprised. Banks don’t close accounts on a whim. – Alec Hogg
By Tiisetso Motsoeneng
JOHANNESBURG, April 14 (Reuters) – South Africa’s Oakbay Investments has failed to restore ties with at least one of the four banks which have ostracised the company over allegations that its owners have undue political influence in the country.
Nazeem Howa, CEO of the holding company for the Gupta family’s businesses, said his attempt to patch up relations with the banks was dealt a blow earlier this week when one of the banks refused a request for a meeting.
“One of the banks has already said to us they don’t see any reason to meet,” Howa told Reuters, declining to name the bank. He was still seeking meetings with the other three, he added.
Oakbay is scrambling to restore banking relationships after all four major South African banks cut ties following allegations that the Guptas have undue political influence with President Jacob Zuma.
Howa was speaking shortly after Oakbay completed a 2.1 billion rand ($145 million) takeover of Optimum Coal Holdings, whose future was uncertain after owner Glencore put it under business rescue proceedings, or protection from creditors.
“We are delighted to announce the completion of this acquisition which demonstrates that despite the threats by some of our country’s banks to cut their ties with Oakbay, we are committed to investment in South Africa and creating jobs,” he said in a separate statement.
Standard Bank and Nedbank became the latest companies to sever links with Oakbay late last week. The local unit of global auditors KPMG, citing association risk, ended its business ties earlier this month.
Howa said the livelihoods of its 7,500 employees were at stake if Oakbay fails to re-establish relationships with the banks, as the firm will be unable to pay their salaries.
“We are pleading with them to reconsider their position. We have to find a way to save these jobs,” he told Reuters.
Oakbay has until at least the end of May to find a bank, Howa has previously said.
Although the Guptas’ relationship with Zuma has been a source of controversy for years, it burst into the open last month when a senior government minister alleged that the family had exerted undue influence, including offering a cabinet position.
Zuma has acknowledged the Guptas are his friends but denies anything improper. The Guptas, whose wide range of business interests include media and mining, have denied the allegations and say they are pawns in a plot to oust Zuma.