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Banks slapped with fines for weak anti-money laundering controls

Several local and international banks have been slapped with administrative fines by the South African Reserve Bank, for weak anti-money laundering and combating of financing terrorism controls.

The banks include Investec, Absa, Standard Chartered, as well as Habib Overseas Bank.

Overall, banks were fined a total of R46.5-million.

Absa was fined R10-million for weaknesses related to their transaction monitoring. Investec received the largest fine of R20-million. This was due to their failure to implement adequate processes to screen the related parties of customers.

Meanwhile, Habib bank was fined R1-million for “inadequate controls and working methods pertaining to the reporting of suspicious and unusual transactions”, the Reserve Bank said in its banking supervision report released on Friday.

The decision to pose the penalties was not as a result of evidence that any of the banks had facilitated illegal activity the SARB said, but rather because of the weakness of their control measures.

These banks have been issued with a directive to take remedial action.

Habib Overseas Bank was the target of a fraught acquisition bid by a company with links to Gupta family associate Salim Essa.

In March, Vardospan went to court to try and force the Reserve Bank, the registrar of banks and the finance minister to clear its purchase of Habib.

Vardospan accused the regulators and treasury of dragging their feet in authorising the purchase.

The Mail & Guardian has previously reported how Vardospan concluded a share purchase deal to become the majority shareholder in Habib Bank in August last year.

The deal came shortly after the country’s four major banks closed the accounts of the Gupta family and their related companies.

Vardospan is owned by CINQ Holdings and Pearl Capital Holdings. Vardospan director Hamza Farooqui owns 100% of the shares in Pearl Capital, which has a 33.33% stake in Vardospan. Essa owns 100% of CINQ, which holds the other 66.67% in Vardospan.

The court struck down Vardospan’s attempts to force the authorities hand. Incidentally, the court’s decision came hours after President Jacob Zuma axed former finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a major Cabinet reshuffle late on March 30.

The decision on the application now rests with new finance minister Malusi Gigaba.

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Lynley Donnelly
Lynley Donnelly
Lynley is a senior business reporter at the Mail & Guardian. But she has covered everything from social justice to general news to parliament - with the occasional segue into fashion and arts. She keeps coming to work because she loves stories, especially the kind that help people make sense of their world.

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