Reserve Bank refusal to hand over records inconsistent with Act‚ says History Archive
The refusal by the South African Reserve Bank to provide documents requested by an archive organisation was unfortunate and was reminiscent of what happened during the time of apartheid.
This is the submission made by the South African History Archive (SAHA) in the high court in Johannesburg as it seeks to compel the Reserve Bank to release records of suspected apartheid-era financial crime.
SAHA brought an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) in 2015.
It requested access to records of any evidence obtained by the bank as part of its investigations into any contravention of the law in respect of fraud‚ gold smuggling or smuggling of other precious metals conducted into the affairs of eight individuals.
These include Vito Palazzolo‚ a former Mafia boss who is serving time in an Italian prison. In the 1980s‚ he was linked to the “Bank of Bisho” in the former Ciskei‚ which wsas used to launder money for South African-Israeli weapons programmes.
Although the Reserve Bank located documentation in relation to three of the eight individuals‚ it refused the PAIA request.
One of the reasons for the refusal was that the scope of the PAIA request made by SAHA was unreasonably vague.
Arguing before the high court on Friday‚ SAHA counsel Geoff Budlender SC said the Constitution provided that everyone had the right of access to any information held by the state.
He said in this case‚ this did not happen.
“First‚ (the bank) said SAHA was trying to intimidate it. There was then a lengthy delay. The bank then refused to provide any scrap of document to SAHA‚” Budlender said.
Budlender said in refusing SAHA’s request‚ the bank had misunderstood it.
The bank said none of the documents it had on three individuals constituted evidence they were involved in fraud or smuggling
“What we requested were records of evidence obtained by the bank as part of its investigation‚” Budlender explained.
He said after the bank claimed it was being intimidated‚ it then refused to disclose anything. The bank then claimed it was excluded from requirement to provide information in terms of section 33 of the South African Reserve Bank Act.
The section provides that no officer of the bank shall disclose to any person any information relating to the affairs of the bank acquired in the performance of his duties.
Budlender said the bank’s objection was an objection in principle to disclosing any document that was under its control and this was inconsistent with PAIA.
The hearing continues.