Johannesburg - Two top bank executives on Tuesday detailed how they fought efforts by senior ANC leaders and cabinet ministers who bullied them into reopening the Guptas’ bank accounts after they were flagged for suspicious transactions.
Absa group executive for strategic services Yasmin Masithela told the commission of inquiry into state capture that the bank had resisted the attempts to force it to reopen the accounts.
She said ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe was with the governing party’s deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte, national executive committee (NEC) member Enoch Godongwana and legal adviser Krish Naidoo when they accused banks of colluding to close Gupta-owned Oakbay’s accounts and those of related parties.
But Absa categorically denied interacting with other banks on its clients’ matters. “On April 20, 2016, and at the request of the NEC, a meeting was held between representatives of Absa and representatives of the NEC at Luthuli House,” reads Masithela’s statement.
She said Absa’s team was led by its chief executive Maria Ramos and that the bank’s understanding was that the stated purpose of the meeting was to discuss whether the NEC’s investigation into state capture had triggered any account closures by Absa.
“At the commencement of the meeting, Ramos emphasised that Absa was legally precluded from discussing any past, present or future clients’ confidential information and as such would not discuss any specific clients,” said Masithela.
She said she informed Mantashe, Duarte, Godongwana and Naidoo about the regulatory context in which Absa operated and the legal and policy framework within which banker-client relationships were managed, including the concept of politically exposed persons.
Masithela said Mantashe, who was ANC secretary-general at the time, summoned Ramos to a meeting at Luthuli House the day after bumping into her at a Business Leadership SA event. According to Masithela, at the time of the meeting in 2016, she was Absa’s chief compliance officer, having joined the bank in 2011.
”Absa invited the NEC to raise any concerns that it may have in this regard with the relevant regulators, including the Banking Regulator,” she explained.
Earlier on Tuesday, former FirstRand chief executive Johan Burger testified that he received a call from Godongwana, saying he was facilitating a meeting between chief executives of banks with Mantashe to discuss the closure of clients’ accounts.
Burger told the commission that he demanded that Godongwana provide him with a list of people attending the proposed meeting and its agenda for his preparations.
“I sent a further SMS to Godongwana to enquire whether the meeting scheduled for April 22, 2016, was still on. He responded by SMS to indicate that the meeting was off,” he said.
Burger added that in his 32 years in the banking sector he had never been summoned to a meeting with a political party. FirstRand, of which FNB is a division, never met the ANC to discuss the closure of the Guptas’ bank accounts.
Both Masithela and Burger, who is now a FirstRand director, also told the commission of the inter-ministerial committee purportedly set up by former president Jacob Zuma’s cabinet to investigate the closure of the Guptas’ bank accounts.