UK govt lifts Bain & Co. ban for role in SARS 'capture'

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Bain & Company South Africa will remain excluded from UK Government business until 4 January 2025.
Bain & Company South Africa will remain excluded from UK Government business until 4 January 2025.
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  • The UK government has lifted a ban against global consultancy Bain & Company.
  • The Zondo Commission found that Bain's SA branch colluded with former president Jacob Zuma and ex-SA Revenue Service boss Tom Moyane to "capture" the tax agency.
  • The UK says while Bain SA remains banned, the international Bain will be subject to "rigorous monitoring" for two years.
  • For more financial news, go to the News24 Business front page.

The UK government has lifted a ban against global consultancy Bain & Company from bidding for state work seven months after imposing the sanction.  

The government initially announced the ban in August 2022. This was after the Zondo Commission found that Bain's South African branch colluded with former president Jacob Zuma and ex-SA Revenue Service (SARS) boss Tom Moyane to "capture" the tax agency. 

The UK government said on Tuesday that Bain and its affiliates outside of South Africa are no longer excluded from bidding for state work. However, Bain & Co. South Africa will remain excluded until 4 January 2025, given the findings made by commission chair Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. 

"Bain & Company have cooperated with our investigations and have provided considerable additional information on their self-cleansing actions. They have also agreed to a period of rigorous monitoring for a minimum of two years, during which their continued compliance will be assessed," the UK government said. 

"This decision is subject to a regular and thorough period of close monitoring, for a minimum of two years, so we can be satisfied that the company continues to uphold the measures they have now put in place."

In September last year, South Africa's National Treasury also banned Bain & Co. from tendering for public sector contracts for a period of 10 years for engaging in "corrupt and fraudulent practices" related to its contract at SARS.

The UK government said it will review any new information, including "any potential reconsideration by the South African government of their decision to ban Bain & Company South Africa."

Lord Peter Hain, a former UK Cabinet minister with links to South Africa, had previously claimed Bain was employing staff in its London office who "colluded" with Zuma.

He said in a statement on Tuesday that, "rather than apply more pressure to advance the cause of justice the UK government has now copped out and lifted the ban on Bain it rightly imposed last year at my request".

Hain added, in reference to Nugent Commission that investigated SARS: 

Bain has launched a global spin campaign to portray itself as the victim, while it holds onto the millions earned from its public contracts in South Africa, deemed 'unlawful' by the country's chief justice. 'Not one but two judicial commissions of inquiry found Bain to have colluded with former President Zuma to undermine the country's state institutions, paving the way for public funds to be siphoned off into private pockets.

Bain received R167 million in fees over 27 months from SARS, which it has subsequently repaid, with interest. It however said the Zondo report mischaracterised the role it played at SARS, and wrote to SARS and the minister of finance to ask that the ban be overturned.

Bain SA managing partner Stephen York said in a statement on Tuesday that the company continues "to regret the mistakes made in the company’s work for SARS under the former leadership, which we have acknowledged and apologised publicly for."

"However, there is no evidence that Bain colluded with SARS or engaged in any corrupt and fraudulent practices, and we remain ready to work cooperatively with any authority that approaches us and welcome the opportunity to clear our name," he said. 

"The new Bain South Africa leadership is confident that the comprehensive actions taken by the firm locally and globally will ensure that we never repeat our past mistakes – in South Africa or elsewhere... Our stated intent to be a force for good in the country remains, where we hope to play our part to help address some of the South Africa’s biggest challenges."

The Zondo Commission found that Bain's former managing partner Vittorio Massone had frequent meetings with Zuma and that the consultancy and Moyane did "detailed planning" of planned restructuring at the tax agency "before they even stepped foot into SARS".

Zondo's report recommended that police probe Bain's work at SARS and that all the consultancy's contracts with South African departments and organs of state be re-examined for potential wrongdoing. 

Hain said that if the UK government was taking "any comfort from the fact that Bain has not been prosecuted in South Africa, it is a false comfort."

"This is no indication of innocence, only an indication of an overstretched justice system that is creaking under the weight of corruption to which Bain has contributed." 

In his view, the UK ban should be held in place at least until the current South Africa law enforcement processes against Bain have fully run their course.

*This story has been updated to include comments by Bain SA managing partner Stephen York.

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