Bank dumps Gup­tas

Ner­vous work­ers say Bar­oda has aban­doned the fam­ily

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - BALD­WIN ND­ABA

BANK of Bar­oda has re­port­edly dumped the Gup­tas, leav­ing scores of Oak­bay In­vest­ments’ em­ploy­ees in a state of panic about how they will be paid their salaries in the com­ing months.

Speak­ing on con­di­tion anonymity, work­ers of the Gupta-owned me­dia-arm of Oak­bay – The New Age news­pa­pers and ANN7 – yes­ter­day con­firmed that man­age­ment broke the news at a meet­ing called shortly af­ter mid­day.

“We un­der­stand that Bank of Bar­oda has given them (Gup­tas) a month to find a new home.

“This is re­ally wor­ry­ing,” said a worker at the meet­ing.

The em­ploy­ees, in­clud­ing jour­nal­ists, said they were sum­moned to a staff meet­ing at the com­pany of­fices in Midrand yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

Ad­dressed by Em­ployee Re­la­tions Man­ager Kgo­motso Amazu, staff were told about the In­di­a­based bank’s in­ten­tion to cut ties with Gupta-owned busi­nesses.

One source said that af­ter the brief­ing, “Kgo­motso asked us to sign a pe­ti­tion be­cause the Bank of Bar­oda have given the Gup­tas no­tice to say that they will no longer be do­ing busi­ness with them.

“She (Amazu) said they needed the em­ploy­ees’ sup­port to try and fight the de­ci­sion and get the Bank of Bar­oda to re­verse its de­ci­sion.”

An­other em­ployee said: “It was just her and ANN7 news ed­i­tor, Ab­hi­nav Sa­hay, ad­dress­ing us.

“It ap­pears that the other man­agers were briefed be­fore us. So the two just came down to ad­dress the re­main­der of the staff.”

The em­ploy­ees said that they were not shown the let­ter from the Bank of Bar­oda and were not aware when ex­actly the bank would ex­e­cute its de­ci­sion, one that would likely im­pact on the pay­ment of salaries as well as cred­i­tors.

Amazu con­firmed the staff meet­ing was held but did not want to com­ment on what tran­spired.

She re­ferred all in­quiries to the se­nior gen­eral man­ager, Gary Naidoo. Naidoo did not re­spond to nu­mer­ous calls.

Oak­bay lawyer Gert van der Merwe also re­ferred The Star to Naidoo.

The Star con­tacted the Bank of Bar­oda but were told its Joburg of­fice gen­eral man­ager, Shaikh Rauf, has since gone back to In­dia.

In March, when news first emerged of the In­dia-based len­der wind­ing down its re­la­tion­ship with com­pa­nies re­lated to the Gupta fam­ily to en­sure it is in com­pli­ance with bank­ing rules, an un­named Oak­bay spokesper­son dis­missed it as fake news.

“This is just more ev­i­dence of a cam­paign, by some against Oak­bay, based, as usual, on noth­ing more than in­nu­endo,” the Oak­bay spokesper­son said then.

The trou­bles for the Oak­bay group of com­pa­nies be­gan in April last year when a num­ber of banks and other fi­nan­cial and au­dit­ing firms de­cided to ter­mi­nate their re­la­tion­ship with the Gup­tas fol­low­ing a scathing re­port that ac­cused the fam­ily of be­ing em­broiled in state cap­ture.

Al­though the fam­ily has de­nied the al­le­ga­tions, a se­ries of emails have linked them to sev­eral gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

On April 6 last year, First Na­tional Bank be­came the last ma­jor South African bank to close the ac­counts of Gupta-owned in­vest­ment com­pany, Oak­bay.

This hap­pened af­ter nu­mer­ous banks, in­clud­ing Absa, had ear­lier that month also made sim­i­lar de­ci­sions.

Other com­pa­nies in­cluded Sas­fin Cap­i­tal and au­dit­ing firm KPMG. KPMG seemed to take the de­ci­sion when South Africans be­came aware of the Gupta fam­ily’s in­flu­ence in gov­ern­ment and state-owned en­ter­prises.

KPMG was the au­di­tor of all Gupta owned-busi­nesses. KPMG chief ex­ec­u­tive Trevor Hoole re­port­edly told staff via an email that, “In our view, the as­so­ci­a­tion risk is sim­ply much too great for us to con­tinue”.

In their bid to re­verse the de­ci­sions, Oak­bay-owned com­pa­nies then un­der­took to start set­ting up meet­ings to try to mend re­la­tions with the banks and other in­sti­tu­tions.

The then Oak­bay In­vest­ment CEO Nazeem Howa made the move af­ter shares in Oak­bay Re­sources and En­ergy dropped by 16% in April last year.

Af­ter all else failed, the mat­ter was re­ferred to the high court in Pre­to­ria in which the Gup­tas ar­gued that the move by the banks was il­le­gal, but judg­ment has been re­served since March this year.

A Bank of Bar­oda em­ployee, known only as Dh­jaat, re­fused to re­veal the de­tails of the ter­mi­na­tion with Oak­bay.

“We only com­mu­ni­cate with our client,” was all he said be­fore cut­ting off the phone.

Em­ploy­ees were sum­moned to a meet­ing at the com­pany of­fices in Midrand yes­ter­day

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