Confidence tricksters

Ought business to be terrified of losing Thabo Mbeki as president? And even more terrified of having Jacob Zuma as our new president? Relax. We suspect Jacob Zuma will be eagerly welcomed by many of the biggest players in South African business circles. Big business has traditionally used its financial muscle, generally in private but often enough in public, to influence government policy and policy makers. Bribery is too crude a word. Ubuntu and share-and-share-alike sound so much less aggressive – and we’re all for peace.

All the evidence suggests Mr Zuma knows how to play the game. It won’t require too much  agonizing for business and government to come to terms. Mr Zuma has many wives and a large family to support. He has no time for crap. And he likes being generous, given the means.

But of course there are as many businessmen who will hail the chief – as they always have – because they have long hedged their bets. That’s where our lead story begins.

Last year there was much controversy when we revealed that various Discovery Health directors and senior executives had been involved in suspect offshore dealings through Ansbachers, FirstRand’s so-called private banking division.

FirstRand spokespersons rushed to defend their executives, accusing us of ignorance and malice, and claiming, inter alia, that the “Duisberg” loop structure – an illegal means for residents to move control of their South African assets offshore – had been an innocent, albeit unfortunate, mistake that has since been confessed to the authorities and put right.

In fact those denials and protestations of innocence make the true extent of their offshore activities – as we have now discovered – all the more sinister and shocking.

The directors and senior executives of Discovery, South Africa’s largest health management company, and a major bank in its own right, clearly have no confidence in the future of the country, whoever the ANC might choose as president. For several years they’ve secretly been taking their substantial profits offshore. In short, they’re ready to run at a moment’s notice.

Also worth noting here: Ansbachers received instructions to set up offshore trusts for Discovery’s directors and executives (to hold their Discovery shares) in May 1999. Yet they are not reflected in the Ansbachers’ accounts for that period “discovered” by FirstRand in the Spitz case. Why not? Were separate books kept for such special clients?

And we note that our friend Laurie Dippenaar, although a Discovery Holdings director since September 1999, does not feature amongst the directors who moved their shares offshore. Was he too patriotic to consider such an option? Not really. Perhaps he was just that bit more discreet: we’ve found a document which reveals that on 17 April 2000 Mr Dippenaar consulted Ansbachers about a “bearer share company proposal”. South African company law does not recognise bearer shares, the ultimate way of keeping the ownership of a company secret.

They are, however, recognised in well-known offshore tax havens such as Liechtenstein and Zug. What did you have in mind, Mr Dippenaar?

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The Editor 

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