Nedbank officials did not feel pressured to reconsider its closure of Gupta-related bank accounts after a meeting at the ANC headquarters, the commission of inquiry into state capture heard on Wednesday.
This is according to Nedbank chief executive Mike Brown, who told the commission that — like the officials from the other banks have testified to before him — the bank was invited to meet with members of the ANC and government in the wake of its decision to close the accounts of Gupta-owned companies.
Though the ANC did not attempt to browbeat the bank into reversing its decision, “veiled threats” were made to the bank at a subsequent meeting with an inter-ministerial committee set up by then-president Jacob Zuma, Brown said.
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 an improper influence over 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.
Brown told the commission that he did not leave a 2016 meeting at Luthuli House feeling pressured to reverse the bank’s decision on the accounts of the Gupta-owned companies. The meeting was attended by then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and his deputy Jessie Duarte. Brown said that he was invited to the meeting by Enoch Godongwana, the head of the ANC’s economic transformation committee.
In fact, he was thanked for explaining the bank’s decision to close the accounts, Brown said.
Mantashe, in particular, has come under fire for allegedly calling the meeting to bully banks into reconsidering their decisions.
On Monday Standard Bank’s general counsel Ian Sinton told the commission that at a similar meeting, the bank’s officials were pressed to answer to allegations that they were part of a campaign by white monopoly capital to drive black-owned businesses out of the country.
The banks chief executive Sim Tshabalala was at the meeting and became agitated when this allegation was raised, Sinton said.
After Sinton’s testimony, 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 elective conference: “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.”
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.
Though Brown said that the Luthuli House meeting was amicable, he said another meeting with members of Zuma’s Cabinet was less so.
Upon receiving the invitation to attend the meeting with the inter-ministerial committee – made up by Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, then mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and the communications minister Faith Muthambi – Brown requested a list of those that would be in attendance, he said.
He was told that because it was an ad hoc meeting, no such list could be provided, Brown said.
According to Brown, Zwane opened the meeting – which was allegedly only attended by Zwane and advisors to Oliphant – by expressing his dissatisfaction with the fact that some of the banks had declined to meet with the committee. Zwane suggested that the banks could lose their licenses.
Brown said he felt this was a ”veiled threat”.
Nedbank was asked if it would be willing to step in and save the jobs of Oakbay workers by becoming the primary bank of the Gupta-owned companies, Brown said. He said he left the meeting with the impression that the committee would be pleased if Nedbank agreed to be the Gupta’s primary bank.
The ongoing references to the licensing regime and the suggestion that the bank step in to save the Gupta-owned companies made the meeting seem like it was designed to put pressure on Nedbank, Brown said.