It’s war! Guptas up ante in battle with Gordhan, big banks

Pravin Gordhan

If you thought the Gupta brothers were heading for obscurity in the glittering deserts of the Middle East, armed with their spoils from their business activities in South Africa, think again. The family at the centre of state capture allegations has revealed that it has just got started in the fight against South Africa’s finance minister Pravin Gordhan and the country’s big commercial banks. The Guptas claim they are victims of a political campaign, even though banks have indicated that they withdrew from servicing Gupta entity Oakbay over questionable transactions. Banks are obliged to comply with anti-money laundering legislation that places the onus on them to report “suspicious” transactions to the Financial Intelligence Centre. There are stiff penalties for banks that do not comply with this law, intended to stop criminals from pushing ill-gotten gains into credible banking systems. In August, the SA Reserve Bank fined five South African banks – Investec, GBS Mutual Bank, Habib Overseas Bank, South African Bank of Athens and the Johannesburg branch of Standard Chartered – to the tune of R30m after they failed an inspection. Gordhan, meanwhile, recently raised the alarm in court papers that the Gupta family was attempting to apply pressure on him to act against banks not seen to be friendly to Gupta entities after he met with former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa. The Gupta brothers are close to President Jacob Zuma, with former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor revealing that Zuma was at the Gupta family compound when she was offered a powerful job in exchange for working towards Gupta interests. The Gupta family has strenuously denied all allegations of financial irregularity or involvement in state capture. Now, say the Guptas through their lawyer, they are fighting for their reputation and will reveal the full details in court of a planned smear campaign that has been systematically carried out against them. Instead of leaving South Africa, as speculated, the Guptas look here for the long haul. – Jackie Cameron

By Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – The Guptas plan to reveal “how they are victims of a planned, concerted and politically driven smear campaign” on January 20, when they file responding court papers to Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s 2016 court application.

That is according to an interview the Guptas’ lawyer – Gert van der Merwe – had with eNCA, published online on Tuesday.

Ajay Gupta

“The application is a superfluous application, it should never have been bought, it was just a means to an end goal: and that was to smear,” he said.

“My instructions are that this campaign, executed in choir, all the same voice, and for some even overwhelming, [is] with one purpose and that is to eliminate the business of the Gupta family and to gain obvious political achievement, of which we read every day,” he told the television news channel.

eNCA said that “Van der Merwe says the family will prove their conspiracy claims in court documents due to be filed in just over a week”.

South Africa’s top four banks closed Gupta-owned business accounts in 2016 amid allegations of state capture and corruption that stem from a close relationship to President Jacob Zuma.

“Three judges (are) expected to decide (the) court battle between Gordhan, (the) Guptas and the banks from 28-30 March,” eNCA’s Karyn Maughan tweeted.

Gupta family lawyer says #Gordhan #banks application was “superfluous.. it was just a means to an end goal: and that was to smear”

The Guptas have never approached a court to review the matter, like Fana Hlongwane, who is suing Absa for R7m after it closed his business bank accounts in 2013. He was reviewed as a politically exposed person over Arms Deal allegations.

Instead, the Guptas have allegedly pressurised government to act on their behalf.

Zuma formed an inter-ministerial banking inquiry into the matter in 2016, which saw Mines Minister Mosebenzi Zwane announce a formal inquiry into the banks without approval. The move was subsequently rejected by Zuma.

Under pressure, Gordhan filed papers in 2016 seeking court protection against being forced by the Guptas to intervene in the matter.

Zapiro nails it – as usual. For more Zapiro magic, click here.

All these banks were included as respondents and subsequently filed affidavits, defending their actions to close the accounts.

In its application in December, Absa said it started its review into the bank accounts linked to the Gupta-owned companies in November 2014 as part of its annual review into politically exposed people. It closed their accounts on February 16 2016.

FirstRand said FNB terminated its business relations with the Guptas due to “associated reputational and business risk”.

Suspicious transactions were among the reasons why Standard Bank Group said it closed the accounts of Oakbay and its associated entities in June 2016.

Banks are required to review customers if adverse information comes to light. Standard Bank listed examples of this. These include media reports of the R2.15bn acquisition of Optimum Coal Mine from Glencore by Tegeta Exploration and Resources, which was alleged to be politically influenced.

Another matter facing court action is former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture Report’s findings that Zuma launch an inquiry into whether there was political interference in the business conduct of the Gupta family.

Zuma has approached the North Gauteng High Court to aside the report.

In his affidavit, filed in December, Zuma challenges the recommendation that a commission of inquiry be established, saying it “violates the rule of law that it is inconsistent with the Constitution and breaches the separation of powers principle. – Fin24


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