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Details of “suspicious” bank transactions carried out by companies owned by a business family accused of using its relationship with president Jacob Zuma to illegally further its interests have been disclosed in court papers in South Africa.
On Friday finance minister Pravin Gordhan outlined 72 transactions amounting to a total of nearly €446 million in an application to Pretoria High Court that seeks to shield him from a separate legal dispute involving the Gupta brothers and four South African banks.
The transactions made by Gupta-owned companies between 2012 and June this year are reportedly listed in a document supplied by the Financial Intelligence Centre, which was established by the government to fight financial crime, including money laundering and tax evasion.
Mr Gordhan wants the court to declare that, as finance minister, he is not obliged to help the Guptas in their legal fight with the banks that closed the brothers’ accounts earlier this year.
Following allegations that Gupta brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh were exerting undue influence in government and illegally securing contracts via their relationship with Mr Zuma, the banks stopped doing business with them.
Atul Gupta has denied any wrongdoing by the brothers, telling the News24 website that his family would not involve itself in making dubious banking transactions.
Since his reappointment as finance minister last December Mr Gordhan has gained widespread support locally and internationally for the manner in which he has tried to bring corruption and wasteful spending in government under control.
However, political commentators maintain the finance minister’s efforts have prompted state security institutions overseen by Zuma loyalists to launch politically-motivated criminal investigations designed to sideline Mr Gordhan.
Last week Mr Gordhan was charged with fraud by the National Prosecution Authority relating to a pension payment made to his former South Africa Revenue Services deputy, Ivan Pillay, in 2010. Mr Gordhan denies any wrongdoing.
The finance minister’s court application on Friday came hours after Mr Zuma and governance minister Des Van Rooyen applied for a court interdict to have an independent investigation into state capture by private interests shelved.
That report, by the recently retired public protector Thuli Madonsela, was ordered “preserved” by the high court until Tuesday when the application is down for hearing. If the interdict is not granted, the state capture report will be made public.
While Mr Zuma has backed his finance minister on a number of occasions, many analysts maintain he is the one orchestrating the ongoing efforts to have him removed.
Last week a group of ANC stalwarts said they would accompany Mr Gordhan to court on November 2nd next, when his fraud case is scheduled for hearing. Over the weekend deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa joined the list of those supporting Mr Gordhan, saying he backed him politically and morally.