South Africa ANC Leader Denies Impropriety in Gold Fields Deal

Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) --Baleka Mbete, the chairwoman of South Africa’s ruling party, said she accepted an invitation to join a group that took up a stake in Gold Fields Ltd. (GFI) in 2010 and isn’t aware of any impropriety relating to the deal.

Gold Fields’ former chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele was cited on March 12 by Johannesburg’s Business Day newspaper as saying the government shoved the so-called black economic empowerment transaction down the bullion producer’s throat and threatened to withhold a mining license if its preferred participants weren’t included. The next day the company disclosed that it had ordered an independent probe of the deal in December 2012.

“I have no knowledge of anything untoward in relation to how the BEE partners were chosen,” Mbete said in an e-mailed reply to questions today. “I was invited along with a number of other black South Africans to participate and I chose to do so.”

The government has pressured companies to take on black shareholders to redress discrimination under apartheid rule, which ended in 1994. About 600 billion rand ($61 billion) of empowerment deals have been concluded, with beneficiaries including Cyril Ramaphosa, now deputy leader of the ruling African National Congress.

The 72 shareholders of the Invictus Consortium that secured the Gold Fields stake include Jerome Brauns, a white lawyer who has acted for President Jacob Zuma, and Zindzi Mandela, a daughter of former president Nelson Mandela.

‘Strains Credulity’

“When you consider that the board includes distinguished South Africans, including a former high commissioner to the U.K. and a former president of the Chamber or Mines, prominent international figures from around the world, including a former prime minister of Peru, a former head of the Philippines department of energy and former deputy governor of the Bank of England, it strains credulity to think that such people would bow to any untoward pressure whatsoever,” Mbete said.

The Gold Fields investigation is ongoing and there is no update or expected time for release, Sven Lunsche, a spokesman for the Johannesburg-based company, said by phone today.

Mbete said it would be inappropriate for her to comment on the probe, which was nearing completion. She defended the right of senior South African politicians to engage in business, which was common practice around the world. The country had well-established procedures to avoid conflict of interest.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mike Cohen in Cape Town at mcohen21@bloomberg.net;

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nasreen Seria at nseria@bloomberg.net

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