SUNDAY TIMES – Guptas to sue Gordhan for ‘plotting’ to ruin them

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The family said in court papers that many suppliers had pulled out of deals following a decision by South Africa’s major banks to close Gupta businesses’ accounts. Relationships worth “billions of rands to the family over the years” had been terminated.

The family claim their problems stem from a conspiracy hatched by Gordhan at a Sandton meeting he hosted with 60 major companies. The meeting was a few weeks after Gordhan assumed office in December 2015.

The details of the harm the Guptas allege was done to their Oakbay company are contained in court papers filed by the family on Friday.

These are in response to Gordhan’s application for a declaratory order that he had no powers to intervene between the family and the banks. Part of the application detailed 72 Gupta transactions, worth R6.8-billion, flagged by the Financial Intelligence Centre as “suspicious”. The Guptas have dismissed the transactions as irrelevant.

Gupta lawyers attached letters and termination notices that allegedly show how the family’s businesses are being turned into pariahs.

These include a notice to Shiva Uranium from plant equipment supplier Barloworld that it would not trade with the company, or any other company linked to it or its directors.

Fireblade Aviation terminated a hangar lease and services agreement for the family’s jet, as well as an offices lease agreement with Islandsite Investments, another Oakbay firm.

Attempts to insure property at Oakbay’s Optimum Colliery were dealt a blow after Mutual and Federal pulled out of an agreement in May. Hollard withdrew in July.

Oakbay chief executive Ronica Ragavan said Standard Bank and the Bank of China allowed the family to open accounts but these were terminated within days.

Ragavan said in an affidavit the banks’ decision led to several other companies, including service providers, equipment suppliers, insurance brokers and other banks, ending relationships worth billions.

“The result of the termination of these commercial relationships, purportedly on the back of the statement by the minister urging business to ‘clip the wings’ of the Gupta family, has had devastating effects.”

“I do not intend to deal fully with these consequences in this affidavit, as these effects will form part of an action to be instituted by the Oakbay Group against the minister and such businesses for damages suffered as a result of this unlawful conduct,” she said.

Ragavan said the “onslaught” against Sahara Computers – involving suppliers like LG Electronics, Sandisk, Western Digital and many other “international computer manufacturers” – was “severe”.

“These relationships took years to build,” she said. “As a result it became impossible for Sahara to conduct its business in a lucrative way since it had no bank accounts and no suppliers … This all followed the meeting called by the minister, supported by his calculated application on relief not disputed but in which he left scandalous innuendos.”

Treasury spokeswoman Yolisa Tyantsi said yesterday the department would not say anything other than that Gordhan would respond via the courts.

In its statement on Friday, the Treasury said it was studying Ragavan’s affidavit.

“Oakbay has released a press statement which calls on the court to ‘decline to grant the relief sought by the minister and dismiss the minister’s application’.

“In its statement, Oakbay makes sensational and politically driven claims and allegations, which are designed to deflect from the primary issues raised in the minister’s declaratory order. Strikingly, Oakbay’s answer in the media statement is that it does not contest the minister’s legal contentions.”

Sahara was the second-biggest contributor of revenue for the group in the 2015-16 financial year, having brought in R1.1-billion. It was beaten only by the group’s mining companies, which brought in a combined R1.88-billion in revenue.

The family’s attorney, Gert van der Merwe, said yesterday the damages claim was “most certainly on the cards”. He said no quantification of the losses had been done yet.

Central to the family’s claim of conspiracy is Gordhan’s meeting with the companies, the timing of his court action, as well as an address by Gordhan to the Treasury staff, where he was quoted as saying the family was behind attempts by the Hawks to prosecute him.

Ragavan has asked that the court dismiss Gordhan’s application on the grounds that Oakbay is in agreement that Gordhan did not have power to intervene, and that the minister had already sought two legal opinions which confirmed this.

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