South Africa’s cabinet asks Zuma for inquiry on Gupta account closures – Reuters


JOHANNESBURG The South African cabinet has asked President Jacob Zuma to launch a judicial inquiry into why the country’s top banks cut ties with a company owned by the wealthy Gupta family, who have been accused of holding undue political sway over Zuma.

The prominent business family is accused by the opposition of being behind Zuma’s abrupt sacking of former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December, a move that rattled investor confidence and triggered calls for the president’s resignation.

The Guptas have denied using their friendship with Zuma to influence his decisions, including cabinet appointments, or advance their business interests. The president has acknowledged the Guptas are his friends but denies anything improper.

The cabinet said in a statement released late on Thursday that the judicial inquiry should consider taking legal action against the banks for closing the accounts of the Guptas’ company, Oakbay Investments.

An inter-ministerial team set up by the cabinet in April to look into the reason for the account closures said it received evidence showing the banks were influenced by “innuendo and potentially reckless media statements.”

The cabinet also urged Zuma to set up a state bank, saying the sector was controlled by a few financial institutions.

It was not immediately clear when the inquiry would be launched. Bongani Ngqulunga, spokesman at the presidency, said he could not immediately comment.

Oakbay, whose businesses stretch from media to mining, announced on Saturday that it planned to dispose of its South African businesses this year. The firm said in April that it would struggle to run its operations after the banks terminated its accounts with them.

Although the Guptas’ relationship with Zuma has been a source of controversy for years, it burst into the open in March when senior figures went public to say the family had exerted undue sway, including offering cabinet positions.

The Guptas have denied the allegations and say they are pawns in a plot to oust Zuma. South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog is investigating whether Zuma allowed the family to make government appointments.

(Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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