‘Why we shut Oakbay account’

Suspicions of money-laundering lay behind FirstRand’s decision to cut ties with the Gupta family, which has been linked to allegations of influence-peddling in President Jacob Zuma’s government.

FirstRand is the first lender to disclose reasons publicly for severing links earlier this year with the Gupta-controlled Oakbay Investments.

The Guptas and Zuma have repeatedly denied wrongdoing.

The Guptas’ lawyer said yesterday the suspicions of money-laundering were groundless.

In an affidavit dated November 29, FirstRand chief executive Johan Burger said his company had closed Oakbay accounts to comply with international regulations.

“These require us to prevent FirstRand being used for money-laundering and other unlawful activities,” Burger said in court papers.

Gupta family lawyer Gert van der Merwe said the family took the accusations of money-laundering seriously and would deal with them in its own court application, to be filed by the end of the year.

Between December last year and April this year, all four major banks – FirstRand, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Barclays Africa – terminated the accounts of companies controlled by the Gupta family without making their reasons public.

FirstRand’s court filing is in support of the application in October by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan asking a court to declare that he could not interfere with the banks’ decisions.

Barclays and Nedbank said they would file similar legal applications some time this week.

Last week, Zuma sent back to parliament an anti-money-laundering bill that would have increased scrutiny of the bank accounts of prominent individuals, including himself.

He declined to sign it into law, saying it might be unconstitutional.

A report by the public protector, released on November 2, focused on allegations that Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta had tried to influence ministerial appointments.

Yesterday, the DA asked the Constitutional Court to compel Zuma to appoint a judicial inquiry as recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.

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