News / Opinion / Columns

William Saunderson-Meyer
3 minute read
29 Jul 2017
5:35 am

Not even Atul’s bags of money can plug these #GuptaLeaks

William Saunderson-Meyer

One must question the role that SA’s financial establishment has had in all of this.

Atul Gupta. Picture: Facebook.

The chickens are still flying home to roost – except those fowls hastily exiting with grab bags of cash to Dubai – so it is difficult to be definitive.

But the #GuptaLeaks e-mail exposé is probably the greatest investigative journalism coup in South African history. From the very outset, this seemed in its detail and cadence to be authentic, damaging material.

When it grew into a journalistic torrent, it became clear that they contained revelations that potentially could reshape political and commercial dynasties.

The Gupta family, the controversial cronies of President Jacob Zuma who stand accused of state capture, are a litigious lot. They have the resources to retard publication with a lawyer-driven scorched earth policy.

That they have chosen not to challenge in the courts material that in the eyes of any sentient observer eviscerates their reputations might indicate that they are reconciled to their fate.

But the more likely explanation is that they believe they can ride out the storm under the coat of legislative immunity afforded to them by Zuma’s control over prosecutorial processes.

Let’s not only blame Zuma, though. One must question the role that South Africa’s financial establishment has had in all of this.

Last year, South Africa’s four major banks, as well as an array of financial and auditing firms, terminated dealings with the Guptas, following increasingly difficult-to-ignore evidence of state capture and possible corruption.

This week, the Bank of Baroda, which had stepped in to fill the banking void, retreated, reportedly giving Oakbay, the media arm of the Gupta empire, one month’s notice of closing its accounts.

Any ordinary citizen who suffers daily the ubiquitous officiousness of South Africa’s banking sector will know how insufferably nosy the banks are.

So, in retrospect, the surprise is not that the banks acted against the Gupta accounts, but that they took so long to do so.

The warning signs were there, but the financial sector was happy to ignore them for ages, presumably because it was making money hand over fist.

It was not until the public protector’s investigation into state capture made it impossible to feign ignorance that the banks belatedly acted. But it is not only the local banks that seem to have succumbed to the siren songs of impropriety.

The #GuptaLeaks are shredding the reputations of international household names such as consultants McKinsey, auditors KPMG, software giant SAP and British public relations agency Bell Pottinger.

As they have scurried for cover, the checklist of exculpation has become familiar. It starts with “we have always behaved to the highest professional standards”.

Then comes “some of our junior front-line employees may have behaved inappropriately”.

Then: “We are appointing a highly regarded legal firm to conduct a transparent and impartial investigation.” Soon after, “there appear to have been some lapses in judgment”.

“The executive responsible has resigned.”

Despite the prosecutorial lassitude in South Africa, it is not likely to end there.

The trail is now an international one and authorities abroad will not be as easily fobbed off.

William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer.