Johannesburg: A top South African court has allowed Bank of Baroda to close its operations in the country next month, over its links with the controversial India-born Gupta brothers who are facing massive corruption allegations.
Judge Ntendeya Mavundla of the Pretoria High Court yesterday dismissed with costs an application by 20 companies linked to the Guptas seeking to stop the Bank of Baroda (BoB) from closing all its accounts and leaving South Africa.
The Indian state-owned bank announced last month that it had decided to close down operations in South Africa in line with a revision of its global strategy.
BoB was the only bank that had been working with the Gupta companies after all South African banks severed ties with them following corruption allegations against Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta involving billions of rands.
The three brothers, as well as Duduzane Zuma, son of former president Jacob Zuma who was forced to resign last month, are being sought by authorities investigating these allegations, but the whereabouts of all four are unknown.
Mavundla said in his judgement that the courts could not interfere with BoB’s decision to leave the country.
“The respondent’s rights to trade or not to trade supersedes whatever right if any the applicants might have.
I further conclude that the balance of convenience far outweighs that of the applicant’s and tilts in favour of (BoB),” Mavundla said.
“Put differently, the courts cannot compel the respondent to keep the doors of its business open for whatever duration,” the judge added.
The applicants had secured an interim order against BoB late last year after the bank had advised that it would be closing all accounts of Gupta-linked companies.
The companies cited difficulties they would have with the closure of paying salaries to thousands of their employees in their businesses ranging from information technology to mining.
But the latest judgement said that BoB had “every right” to terminate business contracts including those of the 20 Gupta-linked companies.
There were no immediate comments from the Gupta companies and Bank of Baroda on the ruling by the court.
The Gupta family, who arrived in South Africa from their hometown of Saharanpur in UP about two decades ago, has established a massive business empire in diverse fields, allegedly through their closeness to ex-president Zuma.
The eldest brother, Ajay, has been declared a fugitive by authorities after he failed to hand himself over to investigators as agreed.
Last week, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba announced on national television that Ajay Gupta had not acquired South African citizenship because he had refused to renounce his Indian citizenship first.
Gigaba also came under fire for initially declaring that Atul Gupta did not have South African citizenship either, but later withdrew this after the media published a copy of Atul’s South African identity document.