“He [Zwane] reminded us that we operated under a licence granted by the government and that we should be more responsive to government concerns.”
This is allegedly how the Zuma-era mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane threatened Standard Bank chief executive Sim Tshabalala and Ian Sinton, the bank’s former general counsel, on May 5, 2016 after its decision to close the Gupta family business accounts.
Testifying yesterday about a meeting when the bank’s senior executives met Zwane, Labour Minister Mildred Oliphant, and former Government Communications and Information Systems (GCIS) head Jimmy Manyi – part of a inter-ministerial committee into the closure by banks of Gupta company accounts – Sinton said despite the threats, they could not reverse the decision.
Asked by the commission’s senior counsel Philip Mokoena why Manyi was part of the meeting, despite not being a minister, Sinton replied: “He said he was there as an advisor.”
The bank also found it intriguing that no minutes were ever sent to those in attendance.
Media reports on how the Guptas conducted their businesses triggered panic within the South African banking industry, with Absa the first to close the Gupta accounts.
Standard Bank had compelling evidence to close the accounts after giving the Guptas two months’ notice.
Sinton said there were several “red flags” that led to the bank taking the decision. “When Absa took the decision to terminate relations with the Gupta entities, that led us to conduct information gathering on the companies.”
Other events that influenced Standard Bank to close the accounts included:
- Audit firm KPMG ending relations with the Guptas;
- Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas coming out about Ajay Gupta having attempted to bribe him with R600 million to accept a finance minister post;
- Former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor coming out about being offered a post of public enterprises minister in exchange for favours that guaranteed business interests for the Gupta family;
- Former GCIS chief executive Themba Maseko’s revelations about being instructed by then president Jacob Zuma to help the Guptas, who sought a slice of the state’s advertising budget to fund their media interests – The New Age and Infinity Network; and
- A loan the Guptas obtained from India’s Bank of Baroda to buy a house for one of Zuma’s wives, with her being the sole beneficiary in a trust.
Sinton said: “All this left us with a lot of suspicion and we found ourselves at a risk.”