Hawks claim Gupta probe stalled because of lack of co-operation by FIC
Johannesburg - The Gauteng Hawks’ investigation into the Gupta family has ground to a halt because the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) is refusing to co-operate with them, the unit's head said on Wednesday.
Within the last month, two cases against the Guptas were opened with the specialised police unit’s Gauteng branch.
The EFF opened the first docket. They submitted to the Hawks Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's application to the High Court in Pretoria which featured transactions worth R6.8bn involving the Gupta family and which were under scrutiny.
Civil rights group AfriForum opened the second docket. The organisation submitted former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report as a basis for an investigation.
Head of the Hawks in Gauteng, Major General Prince Mokotedi, told News24 that the two dockets were combined because they dealt with similar accusations against the Guptas.
They both essentially involved suspicious financial transactions, although Madonsela’s report was more detailed and mentioned more suspects, he said.
Mokotedi said that as soon as the dockets had been opened, he assembled a team to investigate and instructed the investigators to get the Gupta’s financial transaction report from the FIC.
"We need that report in order to further our investigation," said Mokotedi.
Officers turned away
He said he sent a team to the FIC’s offices three times to get copies of the more than 70 suspected irregular transactions by the Gupta family and their businesses, as laid out in Gordhan’s application. The officers were turned away.
“The FIC said they will not give us the reports unless we have prima facie evidence that a crime has been committed,” Mokotedi said.
“But unless we have those reports in our hands, we cannot give that evidence.”
Mokotedi said there was a lack of co-operation from the FIC and this was the first time they had experienced this.
“It has left us hamstrung. It means the case is not moving as fast as it could and frankly, unless we get those reports, we do not know how we can move forward. Unless we get co-operation it could mean the closure of those dockets.”
EFF deputy president Floyd Shivambu, who opened the docket, said the Hawks’ investigators had indicated they wanted to meet him to update him on the investigation.
“If the FIC is not co-operating with the investigation, we plan to write them a letter to ask them why this is the case. We will follow up on this.”
A lawyer for the Gupta family, Gert van der Merwe, said they were also struggling to get the detailed report from the FIC.
On October 13, Gordhan asked the high court for a declaratory order on whether Cabinet had the authority to intervene in the dispute between the Guptas and the country’s four largest banks. They closed the bank accounts of the controversial family and their businesses earlier this year.
The Guptas had 15 days to respond to the application, but this deadline had already passed because they did not have the transaction reports.
Van der Merwe said they had asked for the reports from the banks, who told them they had to get them from the FIC, who turned them down.
He said the family was considering bringing an application to force the FIC to give them the reports.
In the meantime, they would ask the court for condonation for not filing their responding application in the 15-day period.
Gordhan attached an FIC report to the application which showed 72 transactions ranging from R5 000 to R1.3bn involving the Gupta family, and which they identified as “suspicious”.
The papers indicated they were flagged by the FIC because there had been "no apparent business or lawful purpose" for the transfers. The report did not contain details of the transactions.
As determined by section 29 of the Financial Intelligence Centre Act, the FIC is by law privy to details on all "suspicious and unusual transactions". These include the financing of terrorism, tax evasion, or transfers that have "no apparent business or lawful purpose".
After Gordhan asked him for information, FIC director Murray Michell decided to issue a certificate detailing suspicious transactions involving the Guptas and their businesses.
"I must emphasise that such a certificate is only to be used for the purpose of introducing evidence in legal proceedings and will only confirm or refute the receipt of reports pursuant to the FIC Act. Such a certificate will not disclose any information concerning the content of any particular report which the Centre has received," Michell stated.
The Gupta-owned Oakbay Investments denied any irregularities.
No response to requests 'outside of the law'
The FIC told News24 that it operates under the Financial Intelligence Centre Act of 2001 (Act 38 of 2001) which "has inherent channels for law enforcement and other competent authorities, including the Hawks, to request information from the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) in support of ongoing investigations".
"The law enforcement and other competent authorities are fully aware of the legal process required to be followed in respect of requests for information," the centre said.
The FIC said they do not respond to requests "which are made outside of the law and continues to support law enforcement and other competent authorities as part of its mandate".
They said they have co-operated with law enforcement agencies and have processed thousands of requests for information since its establishment.
“The FIC has never denied any lawful request for information that is compliant with the Act, and refutes any suggestion that it is uncooperative.”
This article first appeared on News24