Johannesburg - First National Bank (FNB) declined to meet with the cabinet's inter-ministerial committee (IMC) to discuss the closure of Gupta related bank accounts, the state capture inquiry has heard.
The IMC, which was appointed by the cabinet in 2016 to look into the closure of Gupta bank accounts, had written to FNB requesting a meeting with the bank to discuss their close of Gupta accounts, said Johan Burger, FirstRand Group's former chief executive.
Burger told the inquiry on Tuesday the bank declined to meet with the committee in April 2016 after the committee was unable to confirm whether the finance minister Pravin Gordhan would be present in the meeting. The bank also declined to discuss client information with the committee.
The IMC included Labour minister Mildred Oliphant, former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and Gordhan, who declined to get involved in questioning the banks' closure of Gupta owned accounts.
Burger said he insisted that the finance minister had to be present in the meeting as he was the minister responsible for governing of the financial institutions. After the committee was unable to provide this information, the bank declined to meet.
"In a response letter, I said that while we were willing to meet with IMC under the following circumstances; while we can discuss the regulatory framework that the banks operate we cannot discuss any client-specific matter with IMC as that would be illegal. The second thing we added is we would only meet with IMC if all the members were present in particular the minister of finance as he was the responsible minister for the regulatory framework in which banks operate. I received no response to my request," said Burger.
FNB had closed the accounts of Gupta related entities which include Tegeta, The New Age and Sahara Computers in 2016.
Burger said the bank had decided to part ways with the accounts, which excluded the mortgaged accounts, following an assessment by the bank which included media reports and suspicious financial transactions detected by the bank.
The bank could not risk its reputation by continuing to do business with Guptas, he told the inquiry. Burger denied that the bank had colluded with other banks to close the Gupta accounts.
Following their closure of Gupta accounts, Burger said he received a call from ANC's head of economic transformation Enoch Godongwana saying he was sent by then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe requesting to meet with the bank.
Burger said he was told the meeting was to discuss the closure of Gupta bank accounts but was not told who would be attending the meeting. When he enquired who will be attending the meeting and the agenda, Gondogwana then cancelled the meeting, Burger said.
The former chief executive said in his many years working in the banking sector this was the first time had been approached by a political party seeking to discuss banking relations of clients.
"It was unexpected to get a call from a political party to ask questions around a bank and client relationship. In my 32 years as a banker, this is the first call I have ever got from any political party," said Burger.
Burger's testimony echoed that of Standard Bank whose former head of compliance, Ian Sinton told the inquiry on Monday how the ANC IMC had tried to force the bank to reverse its decision to close Gupta owned accounts.
The inquiry continues.IOL