The director-general of finance, Lungisa Fuzile, argued in court papers that the Finance Minister could not be forced to make a decision before Friday. File picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi
Pretoria - Judgement will be delivered on Friday in the High Court in Pretoria in an urgent application by Vardospan for an order forcing the Reserve Bank, Registrar of Banks and Minister of Finance to take a decision on its application to acquire 99.9 percent of Habib Bank.

Salim Essa, a business associate of the politically connected Gupta family, holds 100 percent of Cinq Holding, which owns 66.67 percent of Vardospan.

The balance of the shareholding in Vardospan is held by Pearl Capital, which is wholly owned by Hamza Farooqui. He and his father Favaid are the two directors of Vardospan.

The application was prompted by the sale of Habib Bank to Vardospan being conditional on approval being obtained for the transaction from the Reserve Bank, Registrar of Banks and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan by today.

Habib Bank holds a full banking licence granted by the South African Reserve Bank and is 99.9percent owned by Pitcains in Luxembourg. The remaining 0.10 percent is owned by six individual shareholders.

Arnold Subel, counsel for Vardospan, said the application for approval of the transaction had been submitted in August last year and seven months was a more than reasonable time period for a decision to be taken.

Subel said the respondents knew about the deadline, but “nowhere in any letter have they said it's not doable and they need more time”.

“The message they are sending out is that the Minister of Finance and the Reserve Bank are not beholden to anyone,” he said.

Subel added the transaction was not complex and the seller was not prepared to grant a further extension of time. "Delays kill commercial transactions,” he stressed.

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Gilbert Marcus, counsel for the Reserve Bank, said Vardospan was applying for “a quite extraordinary and unprecedented order”. Marcus said the Reserve Bank was established by the constitution and was required to perform its duties independently and without fear, favour or object.

Absurd

He said Vardospan was seeking through its application to dictate to the Reserve Bank how it exercised its powers “in an absurd short space of time”.

Marcus said the nature of the decision that had to be taken was not a simple matter and it was necessary for the Reserve Bank to exercise the greatest care in taking the decision because of the impact if a bank failed.

He said the application entailed an abuse of process and the rules of court and should be struck from the roll.

“Vardospan made a demand as if the world revolves around Vardospan and the Minister of Finance and the Reserve Bank must devote their entire energies to Vardospan. It doesn’t work like that,” he said.

Matthew Chaskalson, counsel for the finance minister, said the urgency was the result of a deal Vardospan had entered into with a deadline chosen by itself.

BUSINESS REPORT