#StateCaptureInquiry: FNB declined to meet with Zwane's IMC and the ANC

First National Bank (FNB) played hard ball and declined to attend a meeting called by an inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to discuss the closure of the Guptas' accounts. 

The state capture commission of inquiry heard on Tuesday that the bank was summoned to a meeting by the IMC, set up by members of former president Jacob Zuma's Cabinet, and one with the ANC at Luthuli House.

But the bank declined to attend either. Unlike Standard Bank, FNB strongly pushed back on both requests, leading to the cancellation of the ANC meeting.

Former First Rand CEO Johan Burger was testifying at the inquiry, which is investigating allegations of undue influence by the politically-connected Gupta family on Zuma's administration. 

"In my 32 years in banking it was first time I ever received a request from [a] party or IMC to want to discuss a bank-client relationship. That was unexpected. I didn't expect a third party to question that relationship," Burger said. 

He said both the ANC and IMC wanted to discuss the closure of the Gupta accounts following media reports.

On Monday, Standard Bank's Ian Sinton testified about how both ANC leaders and Cabinet ministers pressured them at separate meetings to force them to reopen the accounts during separate meetings.

READ: ANC, ministers threatened Standard Bank to force it to keep Gupta accounts open, state capture commission hears

Burger told the commission that the acting secretary of the IMC was "unprofessional" and failed to provide them with specifics about the agenda and who would attend the meeting proposed in 2016.

He said the first letter to the bank from the IMC only said the meeting would discuss allegations in the media. However, when they asked for details and what the specific allegations were against FNB, the acting secretary responded that "she had no mandate" to answer the questions.  

Burger said they told the IMC they could only attend the meeting if the finance minister responsible for the legislative framework governing financial institutions was present and refused to discuss the Gupta accounts.

At the IMC meeting with Standard Bank, then finance minister Pravin Gordhan was absent. Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, former labour minister Mildred Oliphant and Mzwanele Manyi, said to be an "adviser", were present. 

"Whilst we were prepared to engage with IMC, we could only do so if we were discussing the regulatory framework, but we would not debate client specific matters with the IMC. It would be illegal," Burger said. 

When the IMC failed to respond with the details they required, Burger wrote back and declined to meet.

He also told the commission that the ANC's head of the sub-committee of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, had also contacted him and summoned him to a meeting with the party's then secretary general Gwede Mantashe at Luthuli House. 

However, the meeting was cancelled after Burger asked for a detailed agenda and who would attend the meeting so that he could prepare. 

Earlier this week, the commission heard that Standard Bank was confronted at the IMC and ANC meeting with allegations of collusion by white monopoly capital against black businesses. 

"I categorically deny any collusion or interaction with any bank regarding our decision to close accounts of the Guptas," Burger said.

When asked to respond to Zwane's comments that the ANC could change the laws to make it illegal for banks to close clients' accounts, Burger said it was "worrying" because he was not the minister responsible for the financial sector. 

Burger defended their decision to close the Gupta accounts, including those of The New Age Media, TEGETA and Sahara Computers. He said trust and protection of reputation were sacrosanct to any financial institution. 

The closure of the Gupta accounts sowed divisions within the ANC and Cabinet. Then finance minister Pravin Gordhan later went to court to seek a declaratory order against the Guptas to prevent them from pressuring him to intervene after the country's four banks closed their accounts. 

ABSA's Yasmin Masithela is expected to continue testifying at the commission on Monday afternoon.

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