Bank of Baroda must keep Gupta accounts open for now

Danish Siddiqui  Reuters                       Bank of Baroda headquarters in Mumbai India

The controversial Gupta family in South Africa today secured a temporary reprieve from a high court which directed the Bank of Baroda from closing their accounts.

Judge Tati Makgoka ordered BoB to keep the bank accounts of 20 Gupta-linked companies open and operational in the same manner as before pending further legal action they must institute within the next 15 days.

Should the companies indeed launch such an application, the ban on closing their accounts is expected to remain in force for the duration of those proceedings-which both sides expect to stretch well into 2018.

The Bank of Baroda's South African chief executive Manoj Kumar Jha said in answering papers in the matter that the bank had earlier reported 45 "suspicious transactions" worth about Dollars 300 million to the South African Financial Intelligence Centre between September 2016 and July 2017.

Senior counsel for the Gupta companies‚ Advocate Rafik Bhana‚ submitted that the matter was so urgent that Judge Makgoka could deliver his judgment immediately and only provide reasons at a later stage. Makgoka dismissed this part of the application, saying there was no relevance in the arguments.

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The companies‚ which included the Guptas' mining ventures Oakbay and Tegeta as well as arms manufacturer VR Laser‚ have consistently argued that the closures would place at risk the livelihoods of 7‚500 workers.

The Gupta companies also tried to have paragraphs in the Bank of Baroda's arguments struck off.

The companies maintained they needed at least two years to give them a chance to find an alternative bank, to restructure their affairs and to sell some of the companies if necessary. It had originally appeared that pay agent Terbium had handled the September salaries, distributing cash paid to it via the Bank of Baroda.

The companies maintained the Reserve Bank had put enormous and illegal pressure on BoB and other banks to close their bank accounts without a shred of proof that allegations of money laundering were true.

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