PETER HAIN: Bain just one of many corporates that helped fleece SA
From estate agents to banks, many organisations turned a blind eye to the Gupta-Zuma plundering
Global corporate Bain & Company was utterly shameless in advising former president Jacob Zuma and his placeman, Tom Moyane, on how to systematically disable SA’s once internationally respected tax agency, the SA Revenue Service (Sars).
That was the devastating indictment of the Zondo commission’s report last week, and it could hardly have been more coruscating about Bain.
The commission determined that the company’s actions were “unlawful’” and that it should be investigated with a view to prosecution, especially over sweetheart contracts it was preferentially awarded by Sars and other state-owned enterprises, bypassing normal tendering procedures.
In return, Bain received generous fees of about R2bn, R164m of which was from Sars, all of which I submit should be repaid.
Furthermore, Bain whistle-blower Athol Williams, from Cape Town, should be treated as a hero by President Cyril Ramaphosa, not forced to flee SA for his safety. Rather than be punished by Bain and the SA business community, he should be lauded as an exemplary executive acting for the good of his country.
That a global company like Bain would act as a willing and knowing accomplice to corruption by those intent on looting the SA state and undermining its democracy is outrageous.
However, as I spelt out in my own evidence before the Zondo commission in November 2019, Bain’s unethical behaviour must be viewed in the context of broader state capture, which would not have been possible without KMPG, McKinsey, SAP and the banks HSBC, Standard Chartered and Baroda. Without them the Zuma-Gupta decade of prodigious looting and money laundering could not have happened.
It was these complicit, fee-clutching global corporates and turn-a-blind-eye governments — from London and Washington to Dubai, Delhi and Beijing — that robbed SA taxpayers of many billions of rand and contributed to a catastrophic loss of GDP of about a fifth under Zuma.
It was ultimately the global corporates that helped the Gupta brothers move their stolen billions out of SA, and then sometimes back in, undetected.
Global banks opened their electronic banking channels to the Guptas and their associates to transfer their looted funds between entities and across borders. They turned a blind eye while these stolen billions were moved through their digital pipelines to less regulated jurisdictions such as Dubai and Hong Kong, to “clean” the money by mingling it with other funds, so disguising its origins and enabling it to be more easily spent. Sometimes it even came back into SA, like on lavish Sun City hospitality.
Lawyers helped the Guptas set up complex “shell” (front) companies, hiding their true owners (the Guptas or their associates) and enabling money to be moved from one country to another where there is low transparency.
Accountants audited incorrectly, leaving suspicious transactions hidden. Estate agents received laundered money during Gupta property purchases.
Global brand names all profited while the Guptas hid and spent stolen funds that could otherwise have been destined for essential SA public services, job creation or infrastructure.
Because of these facts and the Zondo report’s findings, I find it completely unacceptable that Bain remains licensed to operate commercially in the UK, US or anywhere else in the world — at least until it has repaid all of the fees “earned” from the SA state during the Zuma-Gupta years.
This is why I have written to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson asking his government to suspend Bain’s licence to operate in the UK, and to bar it from any public contracts, until legal investigations and proceedings against the company in SA have been concluded.
And it is why I will do exactly the same for the other global corporates if subsequent Zondo reports present findings against them, as is likely to be the case.
For the Bain scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. These global giants thought they could get away with it in SA, even after local media had exposed their nefarious activities.
But when my state capture revelations under parliamentary privilege in the House of Lords several years ago appeared on the front pages of the Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal, their London and New York chiefs beat a path to my door, anxious that their global reputations were being badly damaged.
Unless a global spotlight is shone on them, and unless governments co-operate with each other to block them, state capture will happen again, either in SA or in one of the many other countries in which they work.
• Hain is a former British anti-apartheid leader and cabinet minister. His memoir, ‘A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s “Public Enemy Number One”’, was recently published by Jonathan Ball.
Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.
Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.