Business

Gordhan denies he tried 'clipping the wings' of the Guptas

2017-01-30 15:33

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan has hit back at allegations by Gupta-linked Oakbay Investments that he asked business leaders to “clip the wings” of the controversial family.

In October last year, Gordhan applied to the North Gauteng High Court to ask for relief in dealing with the matter regarding the closure of Oakbay Investments’ bank accounts.

Subsequently, Oakbay Investments responded to Gordhan’s court bid on January 20 this year, in which the company alleged that in January 2016 Gordhan met with 60 "captains of industry" where the minister, according to its "sources", said that "steps must be taken to 'clip the wings of this family [the Guptas]'".

Oakbay then said that shortly after this meeting, several bank and business ties were cut with the company.

But in a responding affidavit filed on Monday, Gordhan “denied” the “alleged conspiracy to ‘clip its [the Gupta family's] wings’”.

“Were it to be true that Oakbay’s business has suffered, this is not attributable to me,” said Gordhan.

“It is significant that Oakbay itself merely advances the accusation, but then retreats from substantiating them. This is on the basis that it is a fight for another day.

“Oakbay will therefore have to prove this in another forum on another day. It cannot have it both ways: making far-reaching allegations without the need to prove them,” said Gordhan.

In the court papers Gordhan said the meeting in question was hosted by Nedbank, and not by him or Treasury. Gordhan said the chief executives, who included those from JSE-listed companies, spoke of the "need to turn confidence around" and the authority of the minister to "make tough decisions".

"What was certainly not discussed was any conspiracy against the Gupta brothers," said Gordhan.

"I am sure that it is well understood, and was appreciated already at the time, that no business (whether it dabbles in politics or not) holds sway over National Treasury, its officials or its political head - myself," said Gordhan.

'Suspicious transactions'

In Gordhan’s court papers filed in October last year, the minister also highlighted a Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) certificate that flagged 72 transactions by Oakbay, amounting to R6.8 billion, as being “suspicious”.

Oakbay in its affidavit on January 20 said there was nothing wrong with these transactions, describing suspicions about them as “misplaced”.

"There is nothing suspicious or untoward about these [72] transactions - they were simply flagged in the ordinary course under the FIC Act, together with millions of other innocent transactions, and any attempt to draw conclusions of the impropriety from the certificate is misplaced," said Oakbay Group’s acting CEO Ronica Ravagan as the first respondent in the company’s lengthy answering affidavit.

Oakbay Investments further said it had made "every attempt" to gain information from the FIC regarding the transactions Gordhan referred to, and that international investigative firm Nardello & Co reviewed the 72 transactions and didn't find any damning evidence.

But Gordhan countered Oakbay’s claims in his court papers on Monday.

“On the one hand, the FIC certificate does not disclose information intended for this exercise; on the other hand, it is unsurprising that a foreign firm found restricting its investigation to a couple of days, very limited information, and international banking standards only found what it was intended it would ‘show’: nothing ‘untoward’,” said Gordhan.

Gordhan further said the FIC flagged the transactions for a reason.

“Self-evidently such a transaction is indeed suspicious, which is why it requires to be reported. Hence the designation suspicious transaction report... A certificate which reflects that such a transaction was reported is vindicated by Nardello’s inability to explain the transaction,” said Gordhan.

Earlier in Gordhan's papers, he also said that he has been advised that the FIC certificate stands.

"It is nevertheless significant that - despite all the points it sought to raise - Oakbay evidently has elected to forego any actual challenge to FIC's certificate itself (whether via a collateral review or otherwise). Accordingly, I am advised, as an important principle of law, the certificate stands. This renders Oakbay's objections (technical and otherwise) to the certificate impermissible before this Court, I am advised," said Gordhan.

The matter between Gordhan and Oakbay is expected to be heard by Tshwane's North Gauteng High Court in March.

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September 15 2019