In 2016 former finance minister Pravin Gordhan revealed in court papers that the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) had compiled a report in which the commercial banks had flagged 72 suspicious transactions related to the controversial Gupta family. The FIC, whose role is to safeguard the integrity of SA’s financial institutions, became prominent in the minds of ordinary South Africans amid growing distress about state capture.

In December finance minister Malusi Gigaba announced that this important institution would in future be led by Xolisile Khanyile, a lawyer, after Murray Michell had been at the helm of the FIC for the 14 years since its establishment.

Khanyile (45) will head the institution at a time when South Africans are demanding more accountability and action from its law enforcement institutions.

In an interview with the Financial Mail a week after her appointment, Khanyile and her new team made it clear that she had barely done a proper trip around the building, and that she was still finding her feet.

Settling in will in all probability not take too long, though, as she takes up the directorship with long experience in the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

"I have been at the NPA for 23 years. It was the happiest time of my life," says Khanyile when asked why she left the prosecuting agency, where she was director of public prosecutions in the Free State.

She had also been a deputy director of public prosecutions in the asset forfeiture unit. "But after [such a long stint] it was time for me to try to make a change," she says.

Khanyile’s name was also mentioned in 2011 as a more suitable candidate for the position of deputy national director of public prosecutions than the disgraced Nomgcobo Jiba.

Khanyile says the FIC is very much linked to what the NPA does in terms of fighting money laundering, seizing the proceeds of crime and following the money.

She was born in Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal and has two law degrees from the University of Zululand. She says her priority now is to strengthen relations the FIC already has with its various stakeholders, as well as to ensure that SA complies with international standards in the fight against corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes.

She has already scheduled meetings with both the NPA and the SA Police Service, who are key stakeholders in the FIC.

She keeps mum when asked about high-profile cases, such as whether any international agency had contacted the FIC to contribute to investigating the Guptas, or whether the FIC will take action against Sars commissioner Tom Moyane — who shared details of an FIC report with his second-in-command, Jonas Makwakwa, and Makwakwa’s girlfriend, Kelly-Ann Elskie. But Khanyile is limited in what she can say, as the law prohibits the FIC from sharing information or details in its reports with anyone unless it is an investigative authority.

And if the other law enforcement agencies do not act on the reports the FIC compiles, Khanyile says there is not much the FIC can do to force the police or the Hawks to take steps.

"The action you can take is to continue to engage and find out how far the process is, and that’s where I intend to play a significant role — in ensuring that I strengthen the relationship," Khanyile says, adding that she hopes the relationship will produce results because of the information the FIC shares with other law enforcement agencies.

The FIC can also temporarily freeze assets in terms of the Financial Intelligence Act, but its role ends when the intelligence reports are handed over to other investigative and prosecutorial arms of the state.

One of Khanyile’s aims is to create more awareness about the work of the FIC.

She laughs when asked what her family’s reaction was to her appointment to the high-profile position for which she left the Free State for Pretoria.

"When I say we need to do more awareness sessions I don’t think my family is even aware of what the FIC does. They think it is one of the authorities of prosecution. They are in the dark," says the mother of two. What exactly the FIC does is difficult to explain to her 12-year-old daughter too, Khanyile says.

For her to be in her new position is, however, for more than just her daughter, and she hopes she can bring real change.

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