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

Ian Sinton testifies at in state capture inquiry. (Video screen grab)
Ian Sinton testifies at in state capture inquiry. (Video screen grab)

Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane threatened Standard Bank's operating licence and threatened to change the banking laws, all in an effort to allow the politically connected Gupta family to keep their bank accounts open.

This is according to Standard Bank's former head of compliance, Ian Sinton, who was testifying at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Monday.

He detailed how they had faced pressure and threats from the ANC at Luthuli House and Cabinet ministers to rescind their decision to close the Gupta-linked Oakbay group's accounts.

OVERVIEW: Cabinet task team, ANC delegation asked Standard Bank to keep Gupta accounts open

The commission heard that former Oakbay Investment CEO Nazeem Howa had written to the government, including the Presidency and the ANC, asking them to intervene.

The country's four big banks closed the Gupta accounts in 2016 over 70 listed "suspicious transactions" totalling almost R7bn, which were recorded by the Financial Intelligence Centre, which implicated the Guptas and their companies.

Sinton said, in May 2016, they had met with the inter-ministerial committee set up by Cabinet to investigate the closure of the bank accounts. The meeting was attended by Zwane, former labour minister Mildred Oliphant and Mzwanele Manyi.

They were told that Manyi was attending as "an advisor to the ministers".

Manyi established close links with the Guptas, taking over their media entities New Age and ANN7 that have since been closed down. He has also publicly put up a spirited defence of the family.

Sinton said that, during the meeting, despite their explanation that they could not disclose their clients' details, they went on to speak about the closure of the Gupta accounts.

'They suggested we should be more responsive'

He said Zwane had told them that he was a member of the ANC and that, as a governing party, it had powers to change the banking laws to stop the banks from closing the accounts of their clients.

"Banks should not be allowed to close bank accounts and, as the ANC, we have the ability to change the laws and were inclined to change the law to make it illegal for banks to close the accounts," he said.

Zwane's comments were in response to Sinton saying they had to obey the laws related to suspicious transactions, and that they had faced an adverse ruling against them already in a British court over their business dealings in Tanzania.

This was after Sinton had explained the domestic and international banking laws demanded that they cut ties with any client involved in potential fraud, corruption and money laundering.

"Toward the end of the meeting they reminded us that, as a bank, we operated under a licence granted by government, and they suggested we should be more responsive to concerns they were raising on behalf of government," Sinton said.

"The meeting was an attempt by two Cabinet ministers, on behalf of Cabinet, to persuade us to retract our decision to close the Gupta accounts," he said.

Sinton had earlier told the commission that the ANC's then secretary general Gwede Mantashe had also demanded a meeting with their CEO, Sim Tshabalala, over the accounts.

The meeting at the ANC's headquarters was attended by Mantashe, deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte, and chairperson of the party's sub-committee on economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana.

'It was the first time I saw my boss react so angrily'

At both the IMC and ANC meetings, Standard Bank top brass were confronted with allegations that they were part of "White Monopoly Capital" and taking "instructions from Stellenbosch".

The White Monopoly Capital narrative was revealed in the Gupta Leaks to have been orchestrated by the now defunct PR agency, London-based Bell Potinger.

"It was the first time I saw my boss Sim Tshabalala react so angrily," Sinton said.

Standard Bank gave the Gupta-linked businesses two months' notice after ABSA closed their accounts.

Sinton said the notice was also sparked after Gupta-owned TEGETA demanded that R1.45bn, contained in a trust account set up solely for the rehabilitation of the mine, be transferred to Bank of Baroda.

He said that, after Standard Bank refused to transfer the money as the instruction did not come from the listed trustees, the trustees were quickly changed.

He said they were also concerned by auditing firm KPMG's decision to cut ties with the Gupta-owned businesses, and reports by then deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, and former MP Vytjie Mentor that they were offered ministerial positions by the Guptas.

On Tuesday, a representative from ABSA is expected to testify when the commission resumes at 11:30.

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