Show us the money, Outa tells Zwane
The imminent closure of the Guptas' Bank of Baroda account may have put mine rehabilitation funds worth R1.6-billion at risk.
On Friday, civil action group the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse wrote to Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane asking him to ensure that the funds be ring-fenced and secured.
The money is controlled by trustees appointed by the Guptas.
This week, Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments announced the sale of Tegeta for R2.97-billion. The company, which includes Optimum Coal, was sold to Swiss-based Charles King SA, owned by United Arab Emirates businessman Amin al-Zarooni.
The sale is subject to regulations and conditions in the agreement.
Outa asked Zwane to confirm that the Koornfontein and Optimum mine rehabilitation trust funds remained intact and that no money had been moved from the accounts.
"If no confirmation can be provided, full details are required relating to what payments have been made, when, to whom, for what purpose and upon whose authority," the letter read.Outa wants confirmation on the amounts currently available in each fund. Outa chief operations officer Ben Theron said Outa was concerned about the possible disappearance of millions of rands from the rehabilitation funds, which, once gone, would be difficult if not impossible to retrieve.
"Minister Zwane had been given until Friday to respond to our demands. If he fails to meet these demands, we will hold him accountable and pursue an urgent interdict to force him to take action," said Theron.
A department statement read: "The department is not yet in receipt of the letter from Outa and can therefore not comment on its contents at this stage."
The department had been notified of the intention to sell, a process subject to section 11 of the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act. "The company is yet to submit its section 11 application ..."
On July 13, Outa lodged a complaint with the Reserve Bank, providing evidence that the Bank of Baroda gave Gupta-owned businesses finance bonds which "far exceed" the value of the properties for which they were being granted.
A week later, the Bank of Baroda gave notice to the Guptas that the family's accounts would be closed in September."We believe this rehabilitation trust fund money may find its way out of the country in the Guptas' apparent exit strategy and need the assurance that this trust fund is frozen to ensure these funds remain in South Africa for the purpose intended," Theron said.
"The impact on the health and safety of local communities living around the mines is potentially devastating, given the effect of acid mine drainage and possible contamination to underground water systems."
The letter was also sent to the Reserve Bank and the South African Revenue Service because there are tax implications to the funds, for which mining companies claim deductions.
Last year, amaBhungane reported that the R280-million Koornfontein fund had been raided by Tegeta.
In a written response to parliament last year, the mineral resources minister said the Optimum Colliery's R1.6-billion fund was held by Bank of Baroda.
Trustees of the rehabilitation funds - all well-known Gupta associates who have served as directors of some of the family's companies - have total control of the funds and can decide where the money should be sent or if the funds should be liquidated.
"The bank and the company have to notify the department when there are changes in a rehabilitation fund account ... Such notification has not yet been received ... The rehabilitation funds are still intact and subject to annual review," said Zwane's department.
In other regulatory concerns surrounding Gupta businesses, the Financial Intelligence Centre flagged five transactions relating to Optimum and Koornfontein between April 21 and May 11 last year, totalling more than R4.5-billion.The FIC report came to light as part of former finance minister Pravin Gordhan's high court application for a declaratory order stating that the finance minister could not intervene in the relationship between banks and clients.
The first of these suspicious transactions took place just days after the Gupta family finalised the purchase of Optimum, allowing them access to the mine's multibillion-rand rehabilitation funds.
Dr Jo Burgess, chairman of the Water Institute of Southern Africa's mine water division, said: "The controls around rehabilitation funds are meant to be tight. Funds for rehabilitation of mines after closure are dedicated funds which are ring-fenced and cannot be used for anything else.
"One of the conditions in getting a closure certificate is that the mine's owners have to have sufficient financial provision to prevent the mine site from becoming a liability ..."
The Guptas did not respond to questions.