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Guptas in move to buy a bank - report

Jun 22 2016 22:28
Fadia Salie and Matthew le Cordeur

Cape Town – The Guptas could soon find a solution from being blacklisted by South Africa’s leading banks by buying their own bank.

This was alleged in a report on Independent Media Online (IOL) on Wednesday, which said “the controversial Gupta family are making moves to acquire their own bank”.

It said the “executives of the Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments are lobbying various leaders of an influential workers union to back their potential takeover of a bank the union partly owns”.

The media group will publish details of the alleged deal on Thursday.

Ubank (formerly Teba Bank) seems to be the likely target. According to the bank's website, its mandate and plan to service the broader working market in South Africa has become imperative in order to extend affordable financial services to South Africa.

Ubank is owned by a trust managed by the Chamber of Mines and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

This would make sense, as Business Day reported earlier this month that Ubank requires R152m for recapitalisation within two years to keep its banking licence.

This emerged at the NUM’s annual central committee meeting two weeks ago, where NUM general secretary David Sipunzi indicated that there was an urgent requirement for the bank to diversify its revenue streams.

Ubank’s management has also reportedly indicated that about R800m would be needed for the bank to invest in upgrading its systems and information technology infrastructure.

Business Day said the Reserve Bank had given the bank until June 20 to come up with a long-term capital-injection plan.

Interestingly, 95% of UBank's clients are mine workers, which would link well with Oakbay Investments – through subsidiary Tegeta, which owns Optimum coal mine and Oakbay Resources and Energy, which owns Shiva uranium and have interests in gold mining.

On Wednesday during SABC’s Morning Live breakfast show, which focused on the transformation of the SA economy and its obstacles, Sabelo Mgotywa, national secretary of the NUM Youth Structure referred to the issue of banks in South Africa.

"I'm not here to represent (the) Guptas or Oakbay, but I think South Africa can take the radical decision that we have taken (with the) Brics bank. We need to have our own bank in the country that can focus on the development of this country.

"If we continue to rely on the banks that we are having, for example Standard Bank, Absa, FNB (and) Nedbank, they are all controlled outside the country and we are not in charge of them.

"We need to be very radical. A typical example (is that) we've got PIC (Public Investment Corporation) and our money is being invested where we don't know as workers and we need to take control of that."

Ajay Gupta, like Mgotywa a member of the audience at the same event, spoke out for the first time on allegations of state capture, which he and his brother Atul have been accused of.

A close friend of President Jacob Zuma, Gupta said he is “not a lobbyist” or a “state capturer”.

He said he believes the idea of state capture is an imaginary concept created by the media. “It is mind capture, it is media capture,” he said.

“As far as I am concerned, I am a friend only (to Zuma),” he said.

Oakbay's auditor KPMG, the top four banks and Oakbay’s JSE sponsor Sasfin Capital all cut ties with Oakbay Investments in March amid rumours of alleged state capture and CEO Nazeem Howa has been on a mission to get the banks to rethink their move.

SizweNtsalubaGobodo has since taken over as its auditor, a key requirement for Oakbay Energy & Resources to remain listed on the JSE.

Cas Coovadia, CEO of the Banking Association of South Africa, said recently “an array of regulations”, including the Fica, compelled financial services institutions to conduct due diligence on clients, “particularly those of a substantive nature and those that are in the public domain”.

FNB, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Absa all acted “with total respect for client confidentiality and all relevant regulations,” the Banking Association South Africa told Bloomberg this year.

“Banks are one of the most stringently regulated businesses in the country because they hold public deposits in trust and must conduct business in a manner that does not introduce risks into the economy.”

The ministers tasked with intervening in the ongoing stand-off between Oakbay and the banks have yet to report back.

"Cabinet noted the actions by the four banks that gave notice to close the bank account of a company," Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe said in April. "Whilst Cabinet appreciate the terms and conditions of the banks, the acts may deter future potential investors who may want to do business in South Africa.”

The attempts to meet with the banks was “normal interaction”, he said. “We are not bullying them. They are big girls and boys at the bank; they can never be bullied by anybody.”

Howa has said 7 500 jobs are on the line because of the banks shutting them out.

“Without the four major banks, we’re really clear that the jobs are at risk,” he told Bloomberg.

While the Guptas have not yet officially been charged with any counts of corruption or state capture stemming from their close friendship with President Jacob Zuma, the Hawks anti-corruption unit is conducting an inquiry into three affidavits pointing to this, while the Public Protector is raising funds for an investigation to start her investigation into the allegations.

Meanwhile, Mgotywa referred to another transaction clouded by Gupta-links - the purchase of Optimum coal mine from Glencore.

On the breakfast show on Wednesday he also lashed out at Eskom over Glencore, which sold its Optimum mine to Gupta and Zuma-owned Tegeta for R2.15bn on April 14 this year. At the time it was sold, Optimum had a standing Eskom claim of R2bn against it relating to out of specification coal delivered.

Mgotywa said Eskom is a state-owned entity which completely failed them (the union and workers) at Glencore. "When we asked them to assist us in as far as buying the coal in order to save the jobs of the workers, they said they are not in business rescue.

"And the same people that are going to be retrenched, tomorrow they are going to be the burden of the state and will not be able to buy electricity and the state must then subsidise Eskom."

With its purchase of Optimum, the Guptas claim to have effectively saved the jobs.

Nick Lambert of UK-based public relations firm Bell Pottinger, which represents the Guptas, simply said in an emailed response on Wednesday evening: "No comment from Oakbay."

oakbay investments  |  gupta family  |  banks


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