#StateCaptureInquiry: Banks expose ANC intervention in Gupta account closures

The state capture commission’s inquiry into the closure of Gupta-related bank accounts continues on Wednesday, with testimony expected from Nedbank chief executive Mike Brown.

So far the commission — chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo — has heard from officials from Standard Bank, FNB and Absa. All have testified that members of the ANC and government met with or attempted to meet with the banks in the wake of their decisions to close 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.Zuma called the banks’ actions suspicious, saying their action could point to collusion.

On Tuesday, the question of collusion was raised in the hearings of FNB’s former chief executive Johan Burger and Absa’s former head of compliance Yasmin Masithela. Both denied categorically that any such collusion occurred.

Both also recounted how the banks were invited to attend two separate meetings: one at Luthuli House and another with an inter-ministerial committee tasked with inquiring into the closure of the Gupta accounts. Though FNB declined to attend both meetings, Absa visited Luthuli House at the behest of then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe.

Masithela said Absa chief executive Maria Ramos was approached by Mantashe at a Business Leadership South Africa event and was asked to attend the meeting. Masithela told the commission that Mantashe began the meeting saying that it would not concern private client bank information.

He did reportedly ask, however, about the alleged collusion between the banks.. “We were quite clear … We do not discuss any exiting of clients with any other bank,” she said.

On Monday, general counsel for Standard Bank Ian Sinton alleged that at a similar meeting at Luthuli House with 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 they were part of a campaign by white monopoly capital to drive away black business.

“It was first time I saw my boss Sim Tshabalala so angry,” Sinton said.

On Monday, Mantashe reportedly hit back at the perception that he and his colleagues had attempted to browbeat the banks into reversing the account closures.

According to News24 Mantashe said on the sidelines of trade union federation Cosatu’s 13th: “I met the banks, that was public. So what is new? We met the banks and the meeting with the banks was an open meeting. We don’t understand the hullabaloo that we talked to the banks. We did talk to the banks.”

“The purpose of the meeting was for the ANC to have information,” he concluded.

Mantashe also told the Daily Maverick that the ANC’s intentions had been misread by the banks. “White monopoly capital was not our angle,” said Mantashe.

Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.
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