STATE CAPTURE DIARY: Inside the meetings to try to strong-arm Standard Bank to reopen Gupta accounts

Gwede Mantashe

Testimony by Standard Bank’s head of compliance Ian Sinton to the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into state capture on Monday revealed some startling details of two meetings the bank had — first with senior ANC officials and then with an inter-ministerial committee.

The meetings were called to try to persuade the bank to reverse its decision to close Gupta-linked bank accounts in 2016.

In the first meeting at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters‚ then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe‚ deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and economic subcommittee chairman Enoch Godongwana asked the bank if they were part of a “white monopoly capital” campaign to destroy black business.

In a subsequent meeting attended by Sinton‚ then labour minister Mildred Oliphant‚ Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala and Gupta associate Mzwanele Manyi‚ then mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane made several threats to the bank‚ including warning them that government would take way their banking licence if they did not reverse their decision to close the bank accounts. Zwane said the inter-ministerial committee (IMC) was formed by cabinet at the instruction of former president Jacob Zuma. We take you inside these meetings:

The Luthuli House meeting called by Gwede Mantashe

“When the meeting commenced‚ after we exchanged the normal pleasantries‚ we made it clear we were not in a position legally to discuss the affairs of any of our customers…We were willing to explain our policies and procedures around account closing generally‚” said Sinton.

“We thought it inappropriate‚ but we nevertheless agreed to attend.

“We were asked to comment on the allegation that we were part of ‘white monopoly capital’ oppressing black business and the closing of the accounts was part of a campaign of ours to drive black people out of business in South Africa.

“We dealt with that in that meeting‚ but I asked who was responsible for this notion‚ on what basis did they come to the conclusion that they accused us of being part of this conspiracy? And they refused to give an answer to that question.”

The bank was also questioned whether they were “taking instruction from Stellenbosch” in closing the accounts. Sinton said Standard Bank rejected the allegation.

Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane’s threats to Standard Bank during the meeting with the IMC

1. We’ll change the law so that banks can’t close accounts — as they had with the Guptas. “Minister Zwane said that‚ as a member of the ruling party‚ he had the ability to get the law changed‚ and he was trying to propose a change to the law whereby it would become illegal for banks to close accounts in these circumstances.”

2.You should be more responsive to the concerns raised by government as we can take away your banking licence. “Towards the end of the meeting‚ they reminded us that as a bank we operated under a licence granted by government and they suggested we should be more responsive to concerns that they were raising on behalf of government. Mr Zwane said that‚ it was his position. “We said as far as we are concerned‚ we comply with all the laws of the land.”

3. You should act in manner that will favour the wellbeing of 7‚500 dependents and avoid job losses and not worry about the law. “They said well‚ surely if it’s a contest between the well-being of the dependents or compliance with the law‚ we should keep the accounts open so that the dependents could be paid at the risk of non-compliance with the law‚” Sinton said. “We said we wouldn’t accept that‚ we wouldn’t accept that we would knowingly break the law in order to ameliorate the consequences of the closure on employees. “They then suggested that the banks should not be allowed to close bank accounts altogether‚ i.e. they said that they have the power to change the law and that they would consider recommending making changes to the law.”

Why did Mzwanele Manyi attend a meeting between Standard Bank officials and cabinet ministers to discuss the closure of Gupta-linked bank accounts?

“We asked on what basis he was attending and we were told that he was an advisor to the minister‚” said Sinton. He described how he and Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala attended an inter-ministerial committee meeting‚ chaired by the mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane and attended by then labour minister Mildred Oliphant. He believed the meeting was aimed at persuading South Africa’s four major banks to reverse their decisions to close Gupta accounts. Manyi attended the entire meeting.

Standard Bank’s Ian Sinton became the first bank official to take the stand in the state capture commission of inquiry on September 17 2018. Journalist Karyn Maughan gives us the highlights of his testimony.

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