SA corporate execs ‘biggest culprits of economic crimes on earth’

The former chief executive of Steinhoff, Markus Jooste, testifies in parliament in 2018. Picture Henk Kruger / African News Agency (ANA)

Occasionally, as in the cases of Steinhoff and the VBS Bank saga, the malfeasance was so extreme that the entities collapsed.

Analysts believe that South African corporate executives, “the biggest culprits of economic crimes on earth”, should be subjected to more anti-graft scrutiny.

Political economist Professor Patrick Bond from the Wits School of Governance said SA corporates were considered to be the most criminal economic enterprises on earth, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers biannual surveys.

“Our Sandton, Cape Town, Durban and Stellenbosch executives are rated as world leaders in money laundering, bribery and corruption, procurement fraud, asset misappropriation and cybercrime,” said Bond.

He said occasionally, as in the cases of Steinhoff and the VBS Bank saga, the malfeasance was so extreme that the entities collapsed.

“But with friends like KPMG and the other … consultancies that sign off on their accounts, and with little or no prosecution to date from a pathetic state prosecutor, it is absolutely vital for civil society’s democracy and transparency activists to focus more anti-corruption attention on the corporates,” he said.

In a joint submission to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture on Wednesday, the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) and Corruption Watch (CW) said that under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, key criminal justice agencies were manipulated for political and personal gain.

The Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the SA Police Service (SAPS) and its crime intelligence division helped to entrench state capture, ensuring impunity for Zuma and his allies, they said.

“Zuma’s ascendency showed people facing serious and well-founded allegations of wrongdoing can be elected to positions of power, where they can subvert the law.”

They said that during the Zuma era, there was generalised impunity for those close to his faction but in the end, it was the inability to hide the scale of looting and the audacity of capturing key institutions like National Treasury and the South African Revenue Service that led to the demise of the Zuma regime.

“Manipulation of the criminal justice system was also evident under former president Thabo Mbeki, but was pursued more consistently and aggressively under Zuma,” they said.

They said one technique used to facilitate corruption was to diminish the investigative powers of institutions responsible for probing complex commercial deals to protect powerful political factions.

“Mismanagement of the criminal justice agencies led to declines in their performance as they became a hostile environment for people committed to the rule of law. Interference in the police, and the appointment of police leadership without appropriate skills, led to a surge in armed robberies,” they said.

The ISS and CW made several recommendations to the commission, including introducing competency and integrity assessments for senior managers in the SAPS, Hawks and crime intelligence; that the corruption investigation and prosecution capacities of criminal justice agencies be strengthened; and a review conducted of SAPS’ crime intelligence division.

“Particular attention should be given to the crime intelligence secret service account, which appears to have been routinely abused.”

gcinan@citizen.co.za

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