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Is it a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t? Absa bank has been in court fighting the controversial Gupta family after terminating its business relationship with Gupta-linked entities. Banks serve as a policing arm for the intelligence authorities in the fight against money laundering and are legally obliged to report suspicious transactions and withdraw from engaging with clients suspected of irregularities. Money laundering is a term used for washing the proceeds of unlawful activities through the banking system. A new legal controversy has erupted after the Democratic Alliance’s eagle-eyed MP David Maynier noticed something amiss: namely, that Absa took an extraordinarily long time to shut down its relationship with the Guptas. He says the real question is not why Absa closed Gupta bank accounts but why it took more than a year to do so after the decision had been taken to terminate the banker-client relationship. Based on the track record of the Gupta family trying to bully finance minister Pravin Gordhan into helping them, it seems highly likely there was significant pressure applied to key individuals behind the scenes. Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos – a former director-general of finance who is also politically connected through marriage to ANC stalwart Trevor Manuel, a former finance minister – isn’t taking any chances in explaining the time lag. After receiving a letter from Maynier asking for clarity on the delay, Ramos is taking legal advice, reports Fin24 on the latest instalment in South Africa’s state capture drama. – Jackie Cameron
By Matthew le Cordeur
Cape Town – Barclays Africa [JSE:BGA] CEO Maria Ramos is taking legal advice after receiving a letter seeking clarity as to why it took Absa 15 months to close the Guptas’ bank accounts.
Earlier on Monday, Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier said he had written to Ramos after Absa’s affidavit in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan’s legal battle against Gutpa-owned Oakbay Investments revealed it took a full 312 working days to shut their accounts.
Absa spokesperson Phumza Macanda told Fin24 on Monday that the bank can confirm that “the office of the CEO is in receipt of the letter from Mr Maynier”.
“We are taking legal advice before responding to Mr Maynier as this matter is a subject of ongoing legal proceedings,” she said.
In a statement on Monday, Maynier pointed to the affidavit submitted by Yasmin Masithela on behalf of Absa, which states that it took “15 months, that is a full 312 working days, from the time the decision was taken to terminate the banker-client relationship with the Guptas (November 18 2014) to the termination of the banker-client relationship with the Guptas (February 16 2016)”.
It also took “13 months, that is a full 272 working days, from the time the decision was taken to terminate the banker-client relationship with the Guptas (November 18 2014) to the notice of termination of the banker-client relationship with the Guptas (December 18 2015)”.
“What the delay in closing the Guptas’ bank accounts suggests is that Absa may have failed to comply with processes, procedures and controls to manage money laundering and terrorist financing risks, including its obligations in respect of politically exposed persons, in terms of the Banks Act … and the Financial Intelligence Centre Act,” said Maynier.
“In the end, the real question, in the controversy surrounding the closure of the Guptas’ bank accounts, is not why the Guptas’ bank accounts were closed, but why it took so long for the Guptas’ bank accounts to be closed, by inter alia Absa.”
The North Gauteng High Court is expected to hear the matter between Gordhan and Oakbay from March 28 to 30.
A major public relations battle has ensued since October 2016, when Gordhan launched the court bid to obtain legal protection from having to intervene on behalf of the Guptas to reopen their bank accounts after the country’s banks blacklisted them. – Fin24
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