ANC, ministers grilled Standard Bank over Gupta account closures
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Johannesburg - Details of how the ANC tried to persuade Standard Bank to reverse its decision to close the accounts of the Guptas were laid bare during the sitting of the state capture inquiry on Monday.
Standard Bank's former head of group legal compliance, Ian Sinton, told the inquiry that Standard Bank executives were summoned to a meeting at Luthuli House in 2016 to explain why the bank had decided to close Gupta owned accounts.
Sinton told the inquiry that the bank had taken the decision to close Gupta related accounts in 2016 following fears that it might harm their reputational image and also a number of suspicious transactions.
Sinton said Standard Bank had issued the Gupta companies a two months notice in April 2016 that their accounts would be terminated.
The decision to do so was based largely on the media reports surrounding the family related to corruption allegations.
Sinton confirmed that The New Age Media, Infinity Media, and Estina had accounts with Standard Bank.
After issuing the notice to Gupta owned companies, Sinton said the bank was summoned to a meeting at Luthuli House to explain why it had taken the decision to close Gupta owned bank accounts.
"Oakbay then embarked on a media campaign where they tried to convince the banks to change the decision made. The chief executives of banks were called on change their decision has it was detrimental to the 7500 staff at Oakbay. That was the public campaign.
"In private we received a request for our chief executive to attend a meeting at Luthuli House to account to them why we had decided to close the accounts. And we received a separate communication from an inter-ministerial committee to account to them why we had closed the accounts," said Sinton.
He said the Luthuli House meeting was called by then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe and was attended by deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte and ANC head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana.
Standard Bank executives, including its chief executive Sim Tshabalala, who attended the meeting were asked why they closed the accounts and were also asked to comment if they were deliberately trying to harm black businesses by closing Gupta accounts.
"When the meeting commenced, we made it clear to the ANC that we were not in the position legally to discuss the affairs of our clients and in particular, we were not able to discuss the Gupta, Oakbay accounts. We explained our procedure of accounts closure in general. We explained the local and international obligations," said Sinton.
"We were asked to comment on the idea that we were part of white monopoly capital oppressing black businesses. We were asked to comment on that we were taking instructions from Stellenbosch in closing the accounts. We denied that. It was the first time that I saw my boss Sim Tshabalala get very angry," said Sinton.
Standard Bank executives were also called to a meeting in May 2016 with the inter-ministerial committee appointed to by Cabinet to look into the closure of Gupta owned bank accounts.
The ministers present at the meeting included former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Mildred Oliphant (labour minister). Also present was Mzwanele Manyi who introduced himself as an advisor to the ministers.
Sinton said one of the ministers told them that they should consider the position of 7500 workers at Oakbay that would be affected by their decision to close the bank accounts.
Standard Bank executives were also threatened that the law could be changed to make it harder for banks to close the accounts of clients. The executives were also asked to comment on "white monopoly capital" and allegations that were trying to hamper black businesses.
They were also told that since they did businesses under a licence provided by the government that they should be more "responsive to the concerns they were raising on behalf of the government".
The inquiry continues on Tuesday with one of the big four banks expected to give evidence.