Two European banks named as Open Secrets hands NPA dossier on alleged apartheid economic crimes

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NPA Investigative Directorate head Hermione Cronje.
NPA Investigative Directorate head Hermione Cronje.
Elizabeth Sejake, Rapport
  • NPA Investigative Directorate head Hermione Cronje was part of a virtual panel discussion on Thursday. 
  • During the webinar on apartheid-era crimes, Open Secrets announced it had handed over a docket of evidence to the NPA.
  • Cronje said the NPA would assess the document, before deciding how to proceed.

Social justice organisation Open Secrets this week submitted a docket to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), setting out the roles of European banks Kredietbank (KBC) and Quintet Bank (KBL) in the alleged sale of the arms to the apartheid regime, the organisation's director Hennie Van Vuuren said on Thursday. 

The NPA says it will be assessing the document before determining if or how it will proceed. 

Van Vuuren was speaking during a panel discussion on justice for apartheid economic crimes hosted by the Financial Mail on Thursday. 

The discussion, which centred on the impunity for corruption and economic crime in South Africa, was also attended by the head of the NPA's Investigative Directorate, advocate Hermione Cronje. 

Human rights lawyer, and former Truth and Reconciliation commissioner, Yasmin Sooka, was also on the panel, as was Open Secrets legal researcher Tabitha Paine. 

Van Vuuren said the organisation believed that the banks had operated in the shadows for a long time and that evidence showed that the corporates provided a service that supported front companies in countries such as Liberia, where money was laundered to during apartheid.

"On the one [hand], you have the human rights violations which we have spoken to. The other hand, is that these banks became very profitable during the 1980s, and we argue that there is just no coincidence. Banks like KBC haven't become economic powerhouses out of nothing. 

"They became precisely that because of their role in assisting regimes like the apartheid regime to bust those sanctions. I think, crucially, this is not just what we present to the NPA when bringing this docket, it is not only the legal argument, but it's the detailed evidence, and some of that evidence includes evidence from former employees of Armscor, the South African state-owned arms company, which was involved in setting up... offices from the South African embassy in Paris. 

"If we follow the money, it leads us to the banks, and we argue that it's time for accountability, and this is the first big step in that direction," Van Vuuren said. 

READ | Law enforcement agencies need to regain public confidence, says advocate Hermione Cronje

Speaking during the interaction, Cronje said she would have a look at the docket and decide whether it fell within the NPA's mandate. She added that the authority would have to assess whether it had the capacity to take it on in light of all other priorities it was facing, including state capture-related crime.

"The reason I feel it is important for us to receive this docket is I do believe that the networks that we are currently confronting are networks that go back decades. And it is important for us to understand how those networks work," Cronje said.

She added the NPA was building capabilities to deal with serious corruption cases.

Cronje said corruption cases could be categorised as "serious corruption, complex corruption, and high profile corruption" - each with a unique set of requirements needed to effectively address them.

The investigative directorate head said dealing with high-profile corruption meant dealing with chief executives from powerful companies, banks, as well as politicians at a high level. She said this often brought with it a great deal of scrutiny. 

"But complex corruption is complex for a number of reasons - it's not conventional law enforcement work to look at financial records, to understand the regulatory environment that banks, corporations operate in. These are not the everyday skills of law enforcement," she said. 

READ HERE | Zondo commission's amended regulation will speed up prosecutions - Hermione Cronje

Cronje said she was looking forward to assessing the docket and the extent of work that had already been done in preparing it, adding that she did not think it would detract from the work  the NPA was already doing around state capture. 

"We are looking at strengthening mutual legal assistance. So, if I am speaking to Belgian central authorities about how to hold banks accountable for current state capture funds that have made their way through those banks, I don't see why I can't ask them to investigate the possibility of assisting us with this case," she said.

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