JOHANNESBURG – Standard Bank has claimed senior African National Congress (ANC) officials, including two government ministers, tried to pressure it to keep the Gupta accounts open.
Other banks are preparing to testify this week before the state capture inquiry on their decision to cut ties with the family and its various business interests.
Standard Bank’s legal counsel, Ian Sinton, testified on Monday that former mines minister Mosebenzi Zwane and his Labour counterpart Mildred Oliphant went as far as saying the bank should break the law in order to pay the salaries of those who worked for Gupta-owned companies.
Sinton says the ANC meeting attended by Gwede Mantashe, Jessie Duarte and others focused on the bank’s decision to close the Guptas’ bank accounts. He says they were also asked about the perception that the bank was part of so-called white monopoly capital to oppress black business, which upset his CEO.
Sinton says the next meeting, attended by ministers Zwane and Oliphant, followed a similar line of questioning, but Zwane was more blatant about the powers that he had.
“They said they had the power to change the law and would consider making changes to the law to make it illegal for banks to close accounts.”
When asked who said this, Sinton responded: “Mr. Zwane.”
Sinton says the ministers also reminded them that banks operate under a license granted by government.
Representatives from First National Bank and Absa are expected to give evidence on Tuesday.
The public state capture inquiry, which is being telecast live, is reviewing allegations that three Gupta brothers unduly influenced former President Jacob Zuma regarding political appointments and the awarding of government contracts.
Zuma says the three brothers – Atul, Ajay, and Rajesh who headed a large conglomerate with assets ranging from mining to media in South Africa – are his friends but he denies any influence-peddling in their relationship.
The Guptas have also denied any wrongdoing.
The brothers’ whereabouts abroad are not known, but they made representations through their lawyers to cross-examine witnesses that have made allegations about them at the public hearings. Their request was, however, rejected.
The inquiry, led by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, was set up on the recommendation of a 2016 report, entitled “State of Capture”, into alleged influence-peddling in Zuma’s administration by the Public Protector, country’s main anti-corruption authority.
The 2016 report and other scandals surrounding Zuma’s nine-year rule forced him out of office in February.