File Image: IOL
JOHANNESBURG - Welcome to the dark side of insider trading. 

In the parliamentary inquiry into state capture, a whistle-blower alleged that Trillian chief executive Eric Wood knew six weeks beforehand that former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene was going to be sacked in December 2015 and he profited handsomely - apparently hundreds of millions of rands - when the rand crashed on the announcement.

However, the JSE and Financial Services Board found no wrongdoing in their investigations.

You may ask if it is true that a person made huge profits from a major announcement and the timing thereof, how was it possible that it could not be detected.

Obviously, if the person in question bought huge amounts of US dollars through South African banks or agencies beforehand, with the objective of buying the positions back at a profit, it should have raised the red flag and the authorities should have picked it up. The timeline of the firing of Mr Nene is very interesting, though, and may give some clues.

Nene’s removal from his position was made at around 8pm when the South African, UK and European markets were closed.

File picture: Philimon Bulawayo

The rand dived over the next two business days, amid consternation over President Jacob Zuma’s decision, exacerbated over that weekend by rumours that Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa would resign.


Late on Sunday evening it was announced that Pravin Gordhan had been appointed to succeed Nene and the rand recovered strongly in the Asian markets on opening.

It is therefore quite possible that the short position in the rand was reversed in the Asian markets.

If that was the case, it means that the original short positions (buying US dollars and selling rands or just taking a short position in the rand) could have been taken in some Asian country or countries or even other countries.

The positions could have involved derivatives such as put and call options, futures, currencies themselves or outright sales of the rand against virtually any other currency.

Front companies or individuals and even banks may have been involved and scored handsomely. One thing is certain though, and that is that the profits made from the trades remain in the foreign bank accounts and will not be repatriated.

What it means is that the loot may be shared by anyone privy to the information beforehand and the funds moved to their accounts anywhere else, except to South Africa.

If the looting indeed took place, it should be viewed as high treason.

However, the chances of the perpetrators being brought to book are very slim. Who they are remains a mystery. This type of situation can and probably will recur time and time again.

Ryk De Klerk was co-founder of PlexCrown Fund Ratings and is currently a consultant for PlexCrown Fund Ratings.

* UPDATE: Following this column, Head of Directorate for Market Abuse, Solly Keetse responded. Keetse said, "Based on the disclosures made in parliament by a former Trillian employee recently that Mr Woods bought US dollars before the change of the Minister. The mandate of the FSB is to investigate market abuse in listed securities. As such, trades in US dollars fall outside of our regulatory scope. Should there be any evidence to suggest that any of these alleged trades were in currency futures contracts, the FSB will investigate such trades as per its mandate."