Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is the master planner of a far-reaching conspiracy aimed at throttling the Gupta family’s business interests in South Africa.
This is the essence of an affidavit signed by acting CEO of Gupta holding company Oakbay Investments Ronica Ragavan and filed this afternoon in the high court in Pretoria.
She based her assertions before court on “credible sources not to be named” and a “forensic report” the Oakbay Group solicited from an international company. Ragavan’s affidavit is in response to Gordhan’s application for clarity on his powers to intervene in the private relationship between banks and their clients.
The Guptas seem to be in full fight back mode and threatened in their application to institute legal proceedings against Gordhan and unnamed businesses for damages suffered as a result of their “unlawful conduct”.
Ragavan accuses Gordhan of badmouthing the Oakbay Group and Gupta family during a meeting with 60 local “captains of industry” this month.
According to Ragavan’s unnamed sources, Gordhan allegedly said to congregants of the meeting that steps must be taken “to clip the wings of this family”.
The fallout, says Ragavan, was severe.
Three banks – FNB, Standard Bank and Nedbank – cut ties with the family. Absa was the only bank to have closed the family’s accounts before Gordhan’s supposed unveiling of the “coordinated campaign” against the Guptas in January.
The South African Revenue Service (Sars), the Reserve Bank, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) and local big business are also supposedly aiding Gordhan in his quest.
The Bank of Baroda, which now holds some of the family’s accounts, complains of “interference” by Sars and the Reserve Bank.
The Bank of China opened accounts for Gupta-linked company VR Laser Services, but ended the relationship within a month.
Ragavan also revealed that the banks contacted Gupta lieutenant Salim Essa and other employees to inform them that their bank accounts were under review.
To add insult to injury, several local firms suddenly refused to do business with any Gupta-linked entity, Ragavan further complains.
She claims Gordhan’s application is “part of the minister’s ongoing plan to discredit the Gupta family and to eliminate them from South African business”, and that the courts should therefore not entertain Gordhan’s application.
Not the least, Ragavan contends, because she in fact agrees with Gordhan that he has no authority to intervene in the relationship between banks and their clients.
Ragavan however does not clarify what exactly her predecessor, Nazeem Howa, meant when he inundated Gordhan with letters containing a “heartfelt appeal for assistance”.
There was nothing “untoward” in Howa’s attempts to solicit assistance from Gordhan, Ragavan said, while revealing that letters were also sent to President Jacob Zuma, the Democratic Alliance and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
She further said Gordhan was “mischievous at best and misleading at worst” when he said the Guptas asserted that he has a legal right to intervene with the banks at their behest.
If the court decides that the matter must be heard, Ragavan will ask the judges to strike out sections in Gordhan’s application such as the list of 72 suspicious transactions with a total value of R6.8-billion.
The list was given to Gordhan by the FIC, but lacks details of what the reported transactions relate to and if they were indeed illegal.
Ragavan described the inclusion of this list in Gordhan’s application as “scandalous, vexatious or irrelevant”.
In order to leave “no stone unturned” to clear their good name, the Guptas appointed an international forensic firm of auditors, Nardello & Co.
“With the limited information available, no transgression of any international banking standard could be found”, Ragavan said.
The matter will be heard in court in March.