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Peter Hain, the former Labour MP who was an anti-apartheid campaigner in South Africa, has called for a sweeping investigation into all bank accounts held in London by any South African state-owned company.
The former cabinet minister demanded in the House of Lords on Wednesday evening that the City of London Police, Metropolitan Police and UK financial regulatory authorities examine any relevant bank accounts immediately.
In recent months, authorities across the globe have heightened their scrutiny of the Gupta brothers, the Indian businessmen whose activities in South Africa are now the subject of an FBI probe in the US.
The Guptas are accused of using their closeness to Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, to influence government business, including appointments to the boards of state-owned companies and contracts awarded by state-owned firms. The Gupta family and Mr Zuma have always denied the allegations.
A parliamentary inquiry in South Africa is investigating claims that the Guptas “captured” the boards of several state-owned firms in recent years.
The parliamentary inquiry in South Africa has focused on Eskom, the utility company that generates nearly all of South Africa’s electricity. The company has been accused of giving the Gupta family financial help to buy a mine that supplied it with coal.
A former Eskom chairman, Zola Tsotsi, said in evidence to the inquiry that he sought to influence appointments at Eskom in tandem with the Guptas.
The inquiry has also heard claims of corruption at South African Airways, the country’s troubled flag carrier, under its former chair, Dudu Myeni. Ms Myeni, who has been a close associate of Mr Zuma, has denied any involvement in corruption.
Eskom has been accused of the financial help by the South African opposition, after evidence was uncovered by a government ombudsman last year.
Lord Hain said on Wednesday that different South African state-owned enterprises had been “looted” by elite individuals.
“Because of South African Airways’ chairperson’s patently unlawful involvement with the Zuma and Gupta families, the authorities should start their investigations with the airline, who are known to bank in London,” Lord Hain said.
Banks have become wary of lending to Eskom as the Gupta scandal has grown, and South Africa’s National Treasury recently overhauled SAA’s board as banks refused to roll over loans to the airline.
Lord Hain said the UK government should ensure that no financial institution based in Britain should be complicit in the plundering of state-owned companies in foreign lands.
Last month, Lord Hain asked the UK Treasury to investigate claims that HSBC and Standard Chartered might have handled illicit funds linked to the Guptas via Dubai and Hong Kong.
Those claims were passed on to Philip Hammond, the chancellor, who then contacted the Financial Conduct Authority, the National Crime Agency and the Serious Fraud Office.
Stuart Gulliver, HSBC chief executive, said at the time that the bank was co-operating with the UK government.
Andy Halford, StanChart’s finance director, said at the time that the bank had informed regulators about issues connected to the Gupta family in 2013. “We were alert to the issue early,” he said. “We took action, alerted the regulators and closed the accounts down.”
Lord Hain said on Wednesday that financial institutions carried “significant responsibility” for rooting out financial crime, describing how “correspondent banks” were typically larger international banks that cleared smaller, generally domestic banks’ foreign currency transactions.
HSBC and Standard Chartered were already the subject of current law enforcement investigations, he said.
“The UK Barclays Bank, which has a significant South Africa and Africa presence, together with Santander, which also has a global footprint, should be given red flag warning to apply special due care for checking their exposure to Gupta money laundering, both direct and indirect,” he added.
Barclays said it no longer controlled Barclays Africa and had recently reduced its stake in Barclays Africa to below 15 per cent. Barclays Africa is listed in South Africa.
Santander declined to comment. However, one person familiar with the matter said it was surprising that Lord Hain had chosen to single out the Spanish bank, as it had no African or Asian operations.
One banker said that in the correspondent banking system, the onus was on the lender originating the transaction for the account holder to do all the necessary checks, rather than each bank carrying out its own checks: “Every bank in the world that acts as a correspondent bank could be picked on, on that basis.”
Earlier this year, the Gupta scandal prompted the collapse of UK PR firm Bell Pottinger. McKinsey and KPMG separately apologised for becoming too closely involved with the family.