FNB officials did not collude with other banks when they closed down the Gupta bank accounts, the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Tuesday.
This is according to the testimony of FNB’s former chief executive Johan Burger, who was asked about allegations that the big banks were acting in concert, in an effort to forward the interests of white monopoly capital. Standard Bank’s Ian Sinton had earlier testified that these allegations had been put forward at two separate meetings with the ANC and government in the wake of the bank’s closure of Gupta-related accounts.
Burger’s testimony forms part of a series of statements heard by the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — from South African banks which in 2016 began closing the accounts of Gupta-owned companies.
In 2016, Absa, FNB, Nedbank and Standard Bank unexpectedly cut ties with Gupta-owned businesses and shut down their bank accounts. The closures 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.
The former president called the banks’ actions suspicious, saying their action could point to collusion.
Burger, led by advocate Refiloe Molefe, categorically denied any collusion between the banks in taking the decision to close the accounts.
His testimony dealt with attempts by the ANC and government to intervene in the closure of the accounts. He recounted how the bank refused to attend a meeting at Luthuli House and a subsequent meeting with members of Zuma’s Cabinet because the bank was not given any further information regarding the agendas of these meetings.
On Monday Sinton said Standard Bank was invited to and attended two similar meetings.
At a 2016 Luthuli House meeting with then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee, Enoch Godongwana, the bank’s officials — including Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala — were asked if it was part of a campaign by white monopoly capital to drive away black business.
Sinton said that the bank was subject to similar questions during a meeting with an inter-ministerial committee, which included Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant and then mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Unlike Standard Bank, Burger said that FNB declined to meet attend meetings with the ANC and the inter-ministerial committee. He told the commission that, in the 32 years that he has been a banker, he has never received and requests from government to discuss a bank’s relationship with a client.
Burger said that the bank was willing to engage with government regarding the regulatory framework of the closures but would not discuss the specifics of any client-bank relationship.
He said he had requested that then finance minister Pravin Gordhan attend the inter-ministerial committee meeting, because he would have the best grasp of this regulatory framework. Gordhan was a member of the committee.
“From our perspective, it was just, for us it was very important that because he was part of the IMC [inter-ministerial committee] that he was present when we met with the IMC,” said Burger.
After the failure to meet this request, the meeting was called off.
Gordhan was asked by Oakbay 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. FNB and other banks supported Gordhan’s application.