Edward Zuma's WhatsApp group shares the name and logo of the BEF. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Edward Zuma's WhatsApp group shares the name and logo of the BEF. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

It looks as if the lodging of criminal charges against executives at banks involved in an alleged foreign-exchange rigging cartel has the fingerprints of President Jacob Zuma’s associates all over it — though they have tried to distance themselves from the matter.

The Black Empowerment Foundation (BEF), an unknown organisation that seems to have sprung up last month, recently laid charges of fraud against executives of 18 banking entities, including Absa, Citibank, Standard Bank and Investec, at the Point police station in Durban, according to SA Police Service spokesman Captain Nqobile Gwala.

This follows a move by the competition commission in February, when it referred a case of collusion to the competition tribunal for prosecution against 17 banks. It has been investigating allegations of price fixing and market allocation in foreign currency trading involving the rand since April 2015. Citibank recently paid a R69.5m fine relating to these charges.

The BEF’s case has heaped further pressure on a sector that has come under criticism from associates of Zuma and his benefactors, the Gupta family, that it had unfairly closed the family’s accounts and that this few in the face of transformation imperatives.

Ryan Bettridge, Zola Qoboshiyane and Bheki Shezi laid charges on behalf of the BEF, using the Government Communication & Information System (GCIS), a state-owned communications agency, to publicise the move.

The foundation shares a name with the "BEF Discussion" WhatsApp chat group, which Zuma’s son Edward created late last year. Among its members are communications minister Ayanda Dlodlo, who oversees the GCIS. The BEF also has the same logo as the chat group.

Edward Zuma failed to respond to questions. But Bettridge denies any links to the president’s son.

"[The WhatsApp group] should not be confused with the registered [nonprofit organisation] called the Black Empowerment Foundation," he says. The Financial Mail could find no record of the foundation’s registration as a nonprofit body.

Regarding the logo, Bettridge says he assumes Edward Zuma "cropped and copied it".

But the links with Edward Zuma don’t end there. Qoboshiyane has the same employer as a young woman whom Edward Zuma has previously said was his sister.

The woman has several pictures of herself at Zuma’s Nkandla homestead on her Facebook page.

"We do not see any crime or sinister motives behind a person working, or most certainly having worked, in the same enterprise as a high-profile person’s son or daughter or wife or mother or whatever the case may be," says Bettridge. "The BEF is an independent ... organisation."

Bettridge says his group opened charges in an attempt to tackle private sector corruption.

"Many [accuse] government, but no-one points fingers at the private sector. To have a corruptee, one needs a corruptor, which is usually in the form of big business or private enterprise. Something has to [be done]. The days of ‘Oops, you caught me, I will pay a fine’ need to end if we are to fight this fraud and corruption scourge in SA."

Absa says it cannot comment without seeing the charges that the BEF has laid. Standard Bank and Investec did not comment.

Citibank spokesman Megs Naidu says the bank co-operated with the commission’s forex investigation from inception to settle
the matter.

"The recent allegations and charges laid against Citi by the [BEF] — which were learnt of by Citi only through the press — are entirely without merit," Naidu says.

"As with the competition commission’s investigation, Citi will, at the appropriate time, when requested to do so, co-operate with the relevant SA law enforcement agencies to address the allegations made against it."

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