The ANC questioned Standard Bank’s decision to cut ties with the Guptas, asking its officials if it was part of a campaign by white monopoly capital to drive away black business, said retired Standard Bank official Ian Sinton, at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday.
Sinton’s testimony forms part of a series of statements to be heard by the commission this week regarding the closure of Gupta-related bank accounts. Though Sinton is retired, he has been retained by the bank as its general counsel to deal with certain issues, including the closure of the Gupta’s bank accounts.
In 2016, Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank unexpectedly cut ties with Gupta-owned businesses and shut down their bank accounts. The move to close the bank accounts came amid allegations that the Gupta family had improper influence over then president Jacob Zuma.
At the time the Guptas owned Oakbay Investments, the holding company for a range of interests including listed Oakbay Resources and Energy, as well as The New Age newspaper and broadcaster ANN7.
Sinton’s testimony dealt with three separate meetings the bank was invited to in the wake of its decision to close the accounts of Gupta-owned companies. Oakbay, the ANC and an inter-ministerial committee all asked to meet with officials from the bank.
The meeting with the ANC, which took place at Luthuli House on April 21, reportedly included ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana.
Sinton told the commission, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, that the bank’s policy is to engage meaningfully with government and that declining to meet with the ruling party would be disrespectful. The bank’s chief executive Sim Tshabalala attended the meeting.
During the meeting the bank’s officials made it clear that they were not in the position to discuss the affairs of any of their clients, but could discuss policy regarding the closure of accounts generally, Sinton said.
Sinton said that at the Luthuli House meeting, the ANC asked the Standard Bank officials to comment on the perception that they were acting on behalf of white monopoly capital to drive black business out of the country. They rejected the accusation, Sinton told the commission.
“It was first time I saw my boss Sim Tshabalala so angry,” Sinton said.
Sinton confirmed that despite these meetings, Standard Bank was not persuaded to reopen the Gupta accounts. At the time the banks cited the need to comply with international banking rules when dealing with customers and concern over their reputations. Members of Zuma’s Cabinet were asked to intervene, with the former president calling the banks’ actions suspicious and saying their action could point to collusion.Then finance minister Pravin Gordhan was asked to stop the banks terminating the accounts, spurring Gordhan to seek a court order stating that he cannot prevent banks from cutting clients. Sinton had filed an affidavit with the Pretoria High Court in the matter.
In the affidavit Sinton alleged that Standard Bank was asked to meet both the ANC as well as the Cabinet inter-ministerial committee, in an attempt to place it under political pressure to reverse its decision.
“It was clear from the inquiries directed by the minister and their adviser … that their main concern was the Oakbay accounts. They wanted to secure an outcome favourable to Oakbay, by using their political and executive power,” said Sinton’s affidavit.