Raymond Zondo. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI.
Raymond Zondo. Picture: SIMPHIWE NKWALI.

The ANC’s desire to keep at a safe distance from the state-capture inquiry came to an abrupt end on Monday.

Testimony at the Zondo commission incriminated two of its top officials as well as three serving members of the national executive committee (NEC) in trying to bully the country’s biggest bank into reopening the Gupta family’s accounts in 2016.

Mosebenzi Zwane, one of the key players in Jacob Zuma’s scandal-plagued administration, even threatened to change the country’s banking laws, according to Ian Sinton, who was at the time the chief compliance officer at the bank.

Zwane, who was mineral resources minister and had no role regulating the financial sector, made the threat to Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala, according to Sinton.

The commission is looking into allegations of massive corruption and fraud in the public sector during Zuma’s presidency. Much of the controversy centres on the Gupta family, friends of Zuma, who were also in business with his son, and allegations that the then president outsourced key aspects of governance to the family, enabling them to direct public funds towards their businesses.

Sinton said he and Tshabalala had met with the interministerial committee set up in 2016 by the cabinet and chaired by Zwane to intervene on the family’s behalf.

Zwane was plucked from obscurity as Free State agriculture MEC by Zuma in 2015 to head the mineral resources department. He was a controversial figure, closely linked to the Gupta family.

His time as resources minister was marked by regulatory uncertainty in what was once the mainstay of SA’s economy. He was removed from the cabinet in February 2018 when Cyril Ramaphosa became president.

Labour minister Mildred Oliphant was also present at the meeting, as was former government spokesman Mzwanele Manyi, who was said to have been there in his capacity as an adviser, Sinton said.

Zwane told him and Tshabalala that he had the "ability to get the laws changed" to ensure that it was illegal for a bank to close anyone’s account and was inclined to initiate this, Sinton said.

Standard Bank’s Ian Sinton became the first bank official to take the stand in the state capture commission of inquiry on September 17 2018.

Zwane, in a veiled threat, also reminded the Standard Bank representatives that the government licensed banks.

The ministers also asked them to comment on allegations that Standard Bank colluded with other banks and that they were part of "white monopoly capital". The bank rejected the allegations.

Between February and September 2016, First National Bank, Absa, Standard Bank and Nedbank closed the bank accounts of the Gupta family and of their companies.

Sinton explained to the commission how Standard Bank came to the decision to close the accounts. This was based on, among others, Absa’s decision to close Gupta accounts; KPMG terminating its relationship with Gupta-linked entities; the claim by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas that he was offered a bribe and a ministerial job; and Zwane’s involvement in the Glencore deal, which led to the Guptas acquiring the Optimum coal mine.

Sinton said Standard Bank was also summoned to another meeting at the ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters.

He said this meeting was with Gwede Mantashe, now the ANC’s national chairman, deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and NEC member Enoch Godongwana.

The bank was again asked whether it was part of "white monopoly capital oppressing black people", and whether its management was taking instructions from people in Stellenbosch.

"This was the first time I saw my boss [Tshabalala] get really angry," Sinton said.

This is the first evidence presented to the commission that the ANC, as a political party, interceded on behalf of the Guptas.

It further compromises the ANC in that its line of questioning on white monopoly capital was straight from the script of the Bell Pottinger PR firm to attack the Guptas’ opponents.

quintalg@businesslive.co.za