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How I pushed for UK to finally sanction Guptas and Salim Essa

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Lord Peter Hain is a former British Cabinet Minister and anti-apartheid campaigner whose memoir, ‘A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, is published by Jonathan Ball.

Pretty well everyone in South Africa knows former president Zuma’s business cronies the Gupta brothers both helped themselves (and the Zuma family) to billions of rands of taxpayers’ money, much of it laundered internationally.

But the question is: What exactly has been done about that?

Precious little is the sad answer.

I tell the inside story in my forthcoming South African memoir A Pretoria Boy (to be published in August by Jonathan Ball) of exposing that state capture and money laundering to a global audience under parliamentary privilege in the House of Lords.  But that was more than three years ago.

I pressed the UK anti-fraud authorities to act against HSBC, Standard Chartered and Baroda banks – although global institutions, London-based and therefore falling under UK jurisdiction. 

But despite some investigations and plenty of hand-wringing assurances from UK ministers, these banks (each prodigious money laundering conduits for the Guptas) escaped sanctions.

Now at least the UK government has responded to my repeated requests.

They have just extended their sanctions regime to target not only human rights abusers, but also international corruption under the new Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions Regulations 2021.

New UK sanctions will target 22 individuals involved in notorious corruption cases in Russia, South Africa, South Sudan and throughout Latin America.

This will mean any UK assets they have will be impounded, that they cannot travel into UK or US jurisdictions and could be arrested by Interpol if travelling elsewhere. It will also mean London-based global banks holding their accounts can be sanctioned.

Targeting these global banks – many household names – is vital because their culpability is huge. For instance, the South African branch of Bank of Baroda was exploited by the Guptas to gain access to its global infrastructure.  And when I pointed out in my evidence in November 2019 before the Zondo Commission that the same was true of Standard Chartered Bank for Dubai, its Johannesburg office protested that it could not be held accountable for the activities of its Dubai office through which the Guptas laundered and siphoned off looted funds.  My rejoinder was to advise: “when in a hole, stop digging”.  Standard Chartered, like HSBC and Bank of Baroda, is a global institution.  In each bank, the looted billions went from their South African offices through their international digital pipelines to offices in Dubai and elsewhere, and their local managers cannot be allowed to get away with saying: “nothing to do with me guv”. 

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has vowed to “stop corrupt individuals using the UK as a safe haven for dirty money” by preventing them from entering the UK and more importantly from channelling money through UK banks.

Never before has the UK imposed asset freezes and travel bans over corruption.  But the 22 individuals have now been subjected to unprecedented UK powers to stop corrupt actors profiting from the UK economy.

Announcing the sanctions in the House of Commons, Raab said: “Corruption has an immensely corrosive effect on the rule of law, on trust in institutions, it slows development, it drains the wealth of poorer nations, it keeps their people trapped in poverty. It poisons the well of democracy around the world.”

He added: “Our status as a global financial centre makes us … a honeypot, a lightning rod for corrupt actors who seek to launder their dirty money through British banks or through British businesses.”

James Duddridge, UK Minister for Africa, said:  “The South African people know better than most the corrosive effect corruption has on a country, its economy and its people. Today, the UK is supporting the important efforts of the South African authorities to tackle corruption, by imposing sanctions against Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa for their roles in serious corruption which caused significant damage to the South African economy.”

In this the UK is following the US, which imposed new anti-corruption sanctions on the Guptas, among others, over a year ago.

Better late than never – of course.  But the Guptas have long laundered billions of looted rands internationally, mainly via Dubai and Hong Kong.  And they have been spending or hiding it ever since they were chased out of their Saxonwold mansions early in 2018.  Lavish weddings for their sons, new property purchases in Dubai and India, transferring funds to offshore Caribbean tax havens – all this has been going on for the past three years, if not more.

Neither the Indian nor the Dubai authorities lifted a finger to bring them to heel.  On the contrary, they turned a blind eye, and I simply don’t know how much pressure the South African government put on them. All of which means sadly that the Gupta horse may have bolted. 

Nevertheless, these Washington-London sanctions will make their lives much more difficult.  And deter others – such as would-be president Magashule – from future Zupta-like conspiracies. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Charles Parr says:

    Let’s hope that this leads somewhere and that more names are added to the list.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Well done Mr. Hain. But to me your comments about the banks, and your second last paragraph override this decision by the U.K. Whilst India and Dubai do nothing, neither it seems the SA government, this will have little impact on these criminals’ lifestyles, riding high with Zuma’s son in Dubai.

  • J LOMBARD says:

    Lord Hain fought a long and hard battle for democracy in South Africa only to see his dream turn into a lukewarm croc brimful of the smelly stuff. Commiserations.

  • R S says:

    We appreciate your efforts from the UK. It seems people here are moving to try and recover what they can, and while we may not see the Guptas in jail, hopefully we can recover some (or most) of their ill-gotten gains.

  • Peter Van laar says:

    Lord Hain has done much – But what about exposing and sanctions against McKinsey, KPMG and others – THE ENABLERS – also with UK interests – They probably fund political parties in UK – so nothing is surfaced – They got away with it. The British public know nothing of their corrupt practices and paying back billions. They are supposed to be the guardians of good governance but enabled large scale looting. Do British state institutions still use their services – YES. Would love to see the British media exposing their dirty tricks –

  • Coen Gous says:

    What sickens me in this article, despite a good article, are these titles! Lord, Queen, Prince…..Frankly, England destroyed the world with colonial occupation. Sorry LORD Hain (this title was for the real Lord), your intervention is no consolation, because the Guptas are still living happily

  • Kanu Sukha says:

    Can we deduce that well known international banks are a significant part of enabling corruption? Like the many ‘comrades’ at the Zondo commission, they will feign ignorance? What of the major laundered amounts by Russian, Chinese & middle eastern thugs who ‘own’ English clubs?FAKE progress I say!

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