South Africa's Gupta brothers allege political scheme to damage them


 Reuters International

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Gupta brothers said in court documents on Friday that they were the victims of a political campaign to damage their business interests, the latest stage in a long-running controversy over their ties to President Jacob Zuma.

The Gupta family filed an affidavit on Friday in response to one issued by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in October linking them and their firm to suspicious transactions.

Gordhan has said 6.8 billion rand (406.61 million pound) in payments made by Indian-born Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, and companies they control and other individuals with the same surname, had been reported to authorities as suspicious since 2012.

He has asked the High Court in Pretoria for a declaratory judgement that he cannot interfere with decisions by South Africa's major banks to cut their ties with businesses owned by the Gupta brothers. Gordhan said they had repeatedly asked him to intervene to have their accounts reopened.

Between December 2015 and April 2016, FirstRand, Standard Bank, Nedbank and Barclays Africa terminated the accounts of companies controlled by the Gupta family's Oakbay Investments.

FirstRand said in an affidavit filed in December that suspicions of money-laundering lay behind its decision. At the time, Barclays and Nedbank said they would file legal applications similar to FirstRand's.

In their affidavit, the Gupta family said the minister's application was "riddled with factual and legal errors", and that there was not enough information about the transactions to conclude they were suspicious.

"The timing of the minister's application supports the Oakbay Group's suspicions that the application is politically motivated and is part of the minister’s ongoing plan to diminish the Oakbay Group," the affidavit reads.

Gordhan was not available to comment.

"We cannot comment on this because it a legal matter that is before the courts," said Treasury spokeswoman Yolisa Tyantsi.

Allegations that the Gupta brothers wielded undue influence over Zuma were investigated last year by the Public Protector, a constitutionally mandated anti-corruption watchdog. It stopped short of reaching conclusive findings but recommended that the president order a judicial inquiry, which has yet to happen.

Zuma has denied granting inappropriate influence to the brothers, and they have denied seeking it.

($1 = 13.5600 rand)

(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by James Macharia)

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 Reuters International