By Prinesha Naidoo
First published on Bloomberg
Global consultancy Bain & Co. and Nedbank Group Ltd., South Africa’s fifth-largest lender, denied wilfully facilitating or being party to corruption after a judicial inquiry found their conduct wanting in their dealings with state-owned firms.
A panel, headed by Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, concluded in the first of a three-part report that the state was “captured” during former President Jacob Zuma’s rule, with top government officials and the private sector colluding to loot taxpayer funds. The report was published earlier this week after more than three years of testimony from hundreds of witnesses.
Bain was implicated in misconduct related to its dealings with the South African Revenue Service (Sars). Zondo’s panel found the Boston-based company met with Zuma and former tax commissioner Tom Moyane before it was signed up as a consultant, and it was clear it would be given a contract to revamp the tax agency’s systems prior to the start of the tender process.
Preemptive appointments were made to “ensure that the necessary pre-planning could be done to redirect the resources of the organisation and assume control,” Zondo said. He recommended that all Bain’s contracts with state entities be re-examined to ensure they were legally compliant and called on law-enforcement agencies to investigate if there were grounds for prosecutors to lay charges in connection with the awarding of any of the deals.
Bain said Zondo’s report “mis-characterises” its role at the tax agency. The panel relied too heavily on testimony from one witness with no first-hand knowledge of its work and that two affidavits it submitted appear not to have been considered, it said.
“While we made mistakes in our work with Sars, we remain confident that we did not in any way wilfully or knowingly support state capture at Sars or elsewhere,” it said in a statement on Friday. Zuma and Moyane have both repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
South Africa’s government has previously criticised Bain’s conduct.
“Bain deliberately plotted to reverse the hard work between 1994 and 2014 to build tax morality and Sars into a world-renowned revenue collection agency,” Ismail Momoniat, a deputy director-general at the Treasury, wrote in a column published in Business Day newspaper in 2019.
The commission separately noted that some transactions involving the processing of billions of rands’ worth of interest-swap agreements that were entered into between Nedbank and Airports Company South Africa (Acsa), which operates the nation’s main airports, were “disturbing.”
An arrangement the lender agreed with Regiments Capital, which advised Acsa, saw Regiments being “incentivised” to act contrary to its client’s interests, according to Zondo. Regiments ensured that Acsa paid a bigger margin on the swaps to Nedbank, increasing its half share of that margin in the process, he said.
The commission also found Nedbank acted on Regiment’s advice without seeking to confirm the swap arrangement terms with Acsa. The commission ran out of time to hear the lender’s evidence related to the transactions, which required further investigation by the relevant authorities, Zondo said.
Nedbank is currently conducting a comprehensive review of the panel’s findings and recommendations and has taken note of concerns related to transactions that it was party to, it said in an e-mailed statement.
“We remain of the view, as previously stated, that there has been no wrong-doing on the part of Nedbank in relation to these transactions,” it said. “Based on our initial review, no adverse findings have been made against Nedbank in terms of the first part of the report.”
Both Bain and Nedbank pledged to continue co-operating with authorities.