Court dismisses Sahara Computers' filing against Gordhan

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Finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
Finance minister Pravin Gordhan.

The North Gauteng High Court has ruled the state attorney can represent finance minister Pravin Gordhan in a case that was brought forward by Gupta-owned Sahara Computers over the impasse with South African major banks.

Sahara Computers, which was represented separately from the Gupta family's Oakbay Investments, had argued Gordhan should not be represented by the state attorney, claiming he hadn't given authority in writing, had a personal agenda, and should personally pay the costs of proceedings.

However, the judges said they were satisfied Gordhan could be represented by the state attorney. They did not accept Sahara's last-minute application arguing that he should have private representation.

"The 14th respondent [Sahara Computers] filed a notice in terms of Rule Seven of the uniform rules of court disputing the authority of the state attorney to represent the applicant, the minister of finance, in this proceedings and called on the state attorney to establish its authority to act for him," judge president Dunstan Mlambo said as he made the ruling on behalf of a full bench of judges.

"Since the Rule Seven notice was filed out of time, the 14th respondent further filed an application seeking condonation for the late filing of the Rule Seven notice. In our view, the 14th respondent has failed to show good cause for the late filing of the Rule Seven notice. We are satisfied that the state attorney has the requisite authority to represent the applicant [Gordhan] in these proceedings. The application for condonation is therefore dismissed."

Established in 1994, Sahara is an independent IT distributor in Southern Africa. On its Web site, the company says it has over 6 000 channel partners. The Guptas say they started Sahara Computers with R1.2 million after spotting a gap in the market created by established tech giants that were selling at huge mark-ups.

According to Oakbay, Sahara Computers is the second highest contributor to the group, reporting R1.1 billion of revenue - 44% of group revenue.

However, the alleged close ties between the Guptas and president Jacob Zuma have drawn widespread criticism, with accusations the family used its "proximity" to the president to "offer" Cabinet positions.

Minister Gordhan also flagged R6.8 billion worth of suspicious transactions involving the Gupta family.

First National Bank, Absa, Standard Bank and Nedbank closed the controversial Gupta family's accounts following the so-called "state capture" allegations.

Zuma then tasked a ministerial committee comprising mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, labour minister Mildred Oliphant and Gordhan to investigate why the country's four banks had blacklisted the Gupta family and their companies.

Gordhan then approached the courts, seeking an order saying he cannot intervene in the banks' relationship with its clients.

The Guptas also had something to smile about as the court agreed to the removal of a Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) certificate detailing 72 "suspicious" transactions on Gupta-linked accounts from the court record, as requested by Oakbay.

"We are delighted that the FIC report, deputy minister [Mcebisi] Jonas's affidavit and any reference to either of them have been struck from the finance minister's application. As the court agreed, the report and the Jonas affidavit are irrelevant to the application. They serve no purpose but to further the minister's own political agenda and to tarnish the group's image," says Ronica Ragavan, acting CEO of Oakbay Investments.

"For months, we have said the list of 72 transactions has been a tool to smear our name and drive unsubstantiated negative media coverage of our business and our shareholders. When attached to a totally unnecessary application, with no contested legal issue, it becomes clear what the finance minister is up to.

"Now we want the information we need to prove our innocence. We call on the finance minister, the banks, the FIC and anyone with the power and authority to release the full details of the 72 transactions so that we can identify them. The truth will come out in the end and today is just the start."

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