Absa snubs Gupta-linked min­is­ter and won’t meet

CityPress - - News - JUSTIN BROWN justin.brown@city­press.co.za

In a move that could sour re­la­tions be­tween the busi­ness and the govern­ment, Absa Bank has de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion from Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources Mosebenzi Zwane to at­tend a meet­ing re­gard­ing the is­sue of the Oak­bay and Gupta busi­ness bank ac­counts.

“We con­firm re­ceipt of an in­vi­ta­tion to a meet­ing from the Of­fice of the Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources on be­half of the in­termin­is­te­rial com­mit­tee an­nounced by Cabi­net.

“We have re­spect­fully de­clined on ac­count of client con­fi­den­tial­ity. As a bank, we can­not dis­cuss any past, present or prospec­tive clients in such fo­rums,” an Absa spokesper­son said.

Zwane, along with Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma, is known to have close ties with the Gupta fam­ily.

Sam Moss, a spokesper­son for FirstRand, which owns FNB, said she had no up­date on any meet­ing with the govern­ment min­is­ters.

Pre­vi­ously Moss said that the bank had been in­formed of the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­termin­is­te­rial com­mit­tee to look at the Oak­bay is­sue.

No meet­ings had been sched­uled be­tween any of the group’s busi­nesses and the com­mit­tee, Moss said pre­vi­ously.

Esme Arendse, a Ned­bank spok­ersper­son, said: “Ned­bank has al­ways en­joyed a very pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ship with govern­ment. If we were to re­ceive an in­vi­ta­tion from any govern­ment depart­ment, we would ap­proach it in a spirit of con­struc­tive en­gage­ment ... If such a meet­ing were to take place, we would, how­ever, not dis­cuss the bank­ing re­la­tion­ships of any of our clients due to banker­client con­fi­den­tial­ity.”

Ros Lin­stroom, a Stan­dard Bank spokesper­son, de­clined to com­ment.

Last month, the govern­ment as­signed Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han, Labour Min­is­ter Mil­dred Oliphant and Zwane to “en­gage” with the Big Four banks that have ei­ther cut ties with the Gup­tas, or are do­ing so.

This fol­lowed Oak­bay los­ing its au­di­tor KPMG, bankers in­clud­ing Absa and FNB, spon­sor Sas­fin, and the res­ig­na­tion of Oak­bay’s CEO and chair­per­son.

How­ever, it is not clear if Gord­han will be join­ing the bid for a meet­ing with the Big Four banks.

When he was chal­lenged in Par­lia­ment about whether he would be part of the in­ter­ven­tion, Gord­han did not an­swer di­rectly, ac­cord­ing to the Ra­dio 702 web­site.

SizweNt­salubaGo­bodo has since given a life­line to the JSE-listed Oak­bay En­ergy & Re­sources, which is 80% owned by Gupta firm Oak­bay In­vest­ments, when it agreed to be the firm’s au­di­tor.

Min­is­ter in the Pres­i­dency Jeff Radebe has pre­vi­ously warned that the ac­tions of the Big Four banks might de­ter fu­ture po­ten­tial in­vestors who may want to do busi­ness in South Africa.

Oak­bay Re­sources needs to have its fi­nan­cial re­sults for the fi­nan­cial year to Fe­bru­ary out by the end of May, but the JSE does pro­vide listed com­pa­nies with an ex­tra month’s grace once the first three months had ex­pired, af­ter the fi­nan­cial year-end.

How­ever, if, by the end of the fourth month, which will be end of June in Oak­bay’s case, the com­pany had yet to pro­duce its re­sults, the JSE would sus­pend its list­ing.

Oak­bay needs to find a new JSE spon­sor by mid-July, or it would be in breach of the list­ings re­quire­ments.

City Press talked to the min­is­ter’s spokesper­son, Martin Mad­lala, on the phone and emailed him ques­tions as he re­quested. He did not re­ply.

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Mosebenzi Zwane

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