South Africa

South Africa

Gordhan vs Guptas: Guptas win first round in court as details of 72 ‘suspicious’ transactions struck from record

Gordhan vs Guptas: Guptas win first round in court as details of 72 ‘suspicious’ transactions struck from record

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Gupta-owned companies each made concessions in court on Tuesday in a case in which the minister seeks a declaratory order stating he cannot interfere in the decision by major banks to close Gupta-owned accounts. The big win went to the Guptas as the court struck out a Financial Intelligence Centre certificate detailing 72 suspicious transactions. By GREG NICOLSON.

The North Gauteng High Court was packed with many of the country’s top advocates on Tuesday as a full bench of judges began hearing Gordhan’s application. Proceedings started with judges quizzing Matthew Chaskalson, representing President Jacob Zuma, named in papers from Standard Bank, as to why he was there if the President was not party to the case. Chaskalson later asked to be excused, withdrawing Zuma’s involvement.

In the much-awaited case pitting Gordhan against the Gupta family and its businesses, the judges will attempt to cut away some of the periphery issues distracting from the matter at hand.

The Gupta-owned company Sahara Computers, which was represented separately from the family’s Oakbay, said Gordhan should not be represented by the state attorney, claiming he hadn’t given authority in writing, had a personal agenda, and should personally pay the costs of proceedings. The judges said they were satisfied Gordhan could be represented by the state attorney. They did not countenance Sahara’s last-minute application arguing that he should have private representation.

“It’s vexatious. It’s scurrilous,” said Jeremy Gauntlett for Gordhan, on Oakbay’s claims he is colluding with the banks to target the Gupta family. The court ruled that allegations of political conspiracy, levelled by both the Guptas and Gordhan at each other, would be struck from the case.

A key point of debate was the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) report, that said there were 72 “suspicious transactions” in the Gupta accounts, potentially providing reason for the banks to close them. Gauntlett said it is important that the report is part of the case as it shows the level of financial impropriety being dealt with. He was asked, however, if Gordhan was powerless to intervene in the matter between the banks and Guptas, why did he even need to gather the FIC information?

Acting for Oakbay, Cedric Puckrin said the report was irrelevant and its allegations subjective. The court decided to strike the FIC report out of proceedings, claiming it had little merit to the key issue of whether Gordhan can intervene in the business between banks and their clients. It was a win for the Gupta family, with the report having the potential to expose further dodgy dealings in front of the court.

Lawyers were set to meet with judges on Tuesday afternoon to plan further  proceedings. The parties were encouraged to settle the matter, considering that after some of the more contentious issues are out of the way, each had agreed Gordhan cannot intervene in matters between banks and their clients.

With rumours spreading that Zuma will replace the finance minister, it’s unclear whether Gordhan’s replacement would continue with the case. DM

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