FILE image. Billionaire publisher Atul Gupta outside the Randburg Magistrate's court in Johannesburg on 27 September 2010. Gupta was charged with obstruction of justice and arrested on 25 September 2010, but the case was dropped due to lack of evidence.
JOHANNESBURG - The latest development in the saga involving the Gupta family and local banks could shed more light on what exactly transpired.
In an affidavit, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan says transactions of R6.8-billion may have contributed to banks closing accounts belonging to the Guptas.
His affidavit was included in papers filed in the high court in Pretoria on Friday. Gordhan approached the Financial Intelligence Centre for assistance with the filing.
Gordhan is asking the court for an order declaring that he can't interfere with the bank's decision.
According to the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism, which broke the story, this could compel banks to divulge their reasons for blocking the Guptas.
"He's effectively challenging both the Guptas and the banks to come forward with the information," said amaBhungane journalist Susan Comrie in an interview with eNCA.
"On the one hand he's saying to the Guptas, 'You are entitled to tell the banks, they can disclose, they can break their client confidentiality and tell us the reasons why they decided to terminate the relationships. And if there were no good reasons then we'll see that.'
"On the other hand, he's saying to the banks, 'This is a forum whereby you are now entitled to disclose that information that you haven't been able to disclose before'," she said.
"So, we're not quite sure what the Guptas are going to do, we're not quite sure what the banks are going to do. There's a lengthy list of respondents who all have an opportunity now to kind of put evidence out there that could finally give us some answers," Comrie added.
Gordhan has been under pressure to intervene in the Gupta-banks matter.
The suspicious payments, apparently made over four years, are listed in a Financial Intelligence Centre report that is attached to the court papers.
Gordhan has cited as respondents the banks, Gupta holding company Oakbay Investments and 13 associated companies.
The banks have refused, so far, to state publicly why they've cut ties with the Guptas.
eNCA specialist reporter Karyn Maughan believes the timing of the release of the Gordhan affidavit is linked to the public protector's report on state capture.
"It very much appears that the information that Pravin Gordhan is disclosing in this affidavit is what Treasury told Thuli Madonsela as part of that probe, because she would have been investigating why the banks severed ties and why was there this bizarre statement."
"And, I think that on the day that she agrees that she's not going to release the report, we see the minister filing this quite extraordinary application where he wants an order saying, 'I should not be expected to intervene in this row because there's a huge amount of questionable stuff going on here and I can't be asked to get involved in this.'"
"The timing is very obviously part of this broader political dynamic and crisis," Maughan added.
The affidavit makes a strong case for the independence of National Treasury, Maughan believes, adding it’s also a move by Gordhan to defend his credibility.
"You can absolutely argue that this application would have a solid motive in law but I've never seen anything like it. He wanted this information out in the public, he wanted people to know what had been going on with this family and he wants to frame his dismissal, if it happens," Maughan said.
"This was motivated by Pravin Gordhan -- being the one person who stood between wholesale questionable financial activity and this particular family."
"We know that they've argued throughout, even in the letters, in the application that is annexed that they've been unfairly victimised, but financial services authorities have earmarked these transactions as suspicious and he's now opened the door for South Africa's banks to say, 'This is why we stopped business; this is why we have a problem and this is why an institution like Treasury needs to be strong, needs to be resilient, needs to be independent to take this kind of stuff on.'"
* Watch the full video report by Karyn Maughan in the gallery above, and see the court documents embedded below.