How did the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) exercise its oversight over public funds used for private and government sanction-busting enterprises during apartheid?
That is the question the South African Reserve Bank is denying the country the answer to by refusing to hand over documents requested by the South African History Archive (Saha), that details the activities of alleged apartheid-era financial criminals, some of whom are still living in South Africa and some abroad, according to Hennie van Vuuren, senior researcher at Open Secrets.
The two-year-old legal battle between Sarb and Saha has resulted in the Reserve Bank claiming it had no legal obligation to heed the application made by the organisation in terms of the Protection of Access to Information Act (Paia) in order to obtain documents at the Reserve Bank’s disposal.
Earlier this year, Saha put in a high court application to force the bank to release records on a number of people suspected of breaching trade sanctions imposed on South Africa in the 1980s.
Among them was well-known Sicilian Mafia-linked businessman Vito Palazzolo.
He came to South Africa as a fugitive, having fled parole in Switzerland in 1986. Palazzolo allegedly moved funds to finance government’s arms and nuclear programmes, in collaboration with Israel.
He was extradited to Italy in 2013 and jailed for his Mafia activities.
Also on the list is alleged arms trader Jan Blaauw, a former brigadier in the SA army who allegedly violated UN arms embargoes to trade with parties such as the state of Israel.
Saha specifically requested “evidence … into any substantial contravention of, or failure to comply with, the law,” according to the organisation’s freedom of information programme coordinator Toerien van Wyk.
Despite the bank’s use of section 46 of the Act, which it said protects it from obligation to release this information, Van Wyk said that the requested information would meet the requirements of the public interest which, in the organisation’s view, overrides the provision.
“Our interest is in ensuring that this information becomes public,” Van Wyk said.