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Guptas 'targeted' Reserve Bank man

04 July 2017 - 06:34 By GRAEME HOSKEN
Indian businessmen, Ajay Gupta (L) and younger brother Atul Gupta, Oakbay (C) MD Jagdish Parekh (R) with Sahara director, Duduzane Zuma (Far Right). File photo
Indian businessmen, Ajay Gupta (L) and younger brother Atul Gupta, Oakbay (C) MD Jagdish Parekh (R) with Sahara director, Duduzane Zuma (Far Right). File photo
Image: Gallo Images

The Gupta family seems to have tried to "capture" at least one retired senior Reserve Bank official who specialised in banking licences and regulations, allegedly under the pretext of offering him consultancy work.

The Bank of Baroda's South African branch got hold of the CV of Wilfred Lautenberg shortly after he retired as the Reserve Bank's head of analysis.

"If I had known that it was going to them I would never have sent it,'' Lautenberg told The Times.

The forwarding of his CV to the Guptas was without Lautenberg's permission, calling into question whether the Guptas violated the Protection of Personal Information Act.

Gupta spokesman Gary Naidoo failed to return calls for comment.

Lautenberg's CV is in the avalanche of leaked Gupta e-mails.

He e-mailed his CV to the Bank of Baroda SA's chief executive, Saniv Gupta, three weeks after he retired at the end of May 2014.

Lautenberg, as the bank's head of analysis, supervised banks licensed to operate in South Africa.

The e-mail had a brief message: "Hello Mr Gupta. As requested, attached please find the information that you requested.

"Please acknowledge receipt. Regards Wilfred."

Within 40 minutes of receiving the e-mail, Gupta forwarded it to Ashu Chawla, chief executive of the Gupta-owned Sahara group, with a message that it should be sent to Rajesh "Tony" Gupta.

Rajesh Gupta then forwarded it to his brother, the family head, Ajay Gupta.

Contacted yesterday, Lautenberg said he was "flabbergasted" that his CV had landed up with the Guptas.

He said that when he was at the Reserve Bank supervision of the Bank of Baroda was among his responsibilities.

"They asked when I went on pension if there were any issues with regard to the bank, and they needed consultants to work for them and, having known their bank, would I be prepared to do such work.

"They asked me to send them my CV. They approached me. That would have been the sole purpose for having done this.

"I would never give permission for my CV to be transferred to anyone else."

He said he could not recall a Saniv Gupta.

He said the Bank of Baroda had violated numerous confidentiality agreements with him.

Lautenberg said if he had done consultancy work for the Bank of Baroda it would have been to advise on whether it was implementing banking regulations correctly.

A man who answered Saniv's cellphone and would identify himself only as Pravik, said Saniv Gupta had left for India in September.

Pravik described himself as a "simple officer" who had no knowledge of the e-mails or the forwarding of the CV.

"The authorised person to speak on this is in India."

Asked who that person was, Pravik said he did not know.

"I do not have a number for him. There are so many questions from the media and we are not commenting on this."

Calls to the Bank of Baroda in India went unanswered.

Senior emerging market economist Peter Attard Montalto said the move revealed a larger part of the Guptas' business strategy, which was to become involved in all sectors of the economy, including the banking industry.

"It's about deploying political capital, which gives you power. It would fit into a possible strategy on the misuse of exchange controls.

"Having people with a sound knowledge of the inner workings of the Reserve Bank could give you an inside understanding of the organisation. It could be useful to know the right people in the right places, especially if you want to keep certain things that you are trying to do quiet from the wider banking system."

He said the Reserve Bank was an exceptionally strong institution and this could ultimately be about attempting to weaken it.

Alex van den Heever, of Wits School of Governance, said the Reserve Bank, now more than ever, is a target of the Guptas.

"The bank deals with the approval and regulation of banks, is responsible for the regulation of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, which attempts to address money- laundering through the banking sector, and it has oversight over foreign-exchange transactions.

"If they were requesting the CVs of people retiring from the Reserve Bank it suggests that the family wanted to identify whether these people could provide them with insight, especially into the decision-making processes of the bank, and who would ultimately be making those decisions."


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