• ‘Nothing unusal about process,’ Zuma spokesman Ngqulunga says
  • Group led by ex-government spokesman says law unconstitutional

South African President Jacob Zuma is considering an objection to changes to the country’s laws that will compel banks to more closely scrutinize their customers and their transactions.

The challenge to the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment Bill is being brought by the Progressive Professionals Forum, which “petitioned the president not to sign the bill, saying it has constitutional defects,” Zuma’s spokesman, Bongani Ngqulunga, said by phone on Monday. “He is considering those objections, whether they have merit or not. There is nothing unusual about the process.”

Complaints by the PPF, led by former government spokesman Jimmy Manyi, come amid wrangling within the president’s cabinet after South Africa’s largest banks said they would close accounts tied to the Gupta family, who are friends of Zuma and in business with one of his sons. The presidency had to issue a statement on Friday denying earlier comments from Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane that the cabinet had agreed to probe banks for not doing business with Gupta-related companies.

The PPF is concerned the bill violates the human rights of people who are employed by the government, or family of state employees, because this makes them a prominent or influential person that immediately renders them a “suspect,” PPF Secretary General Siphile Buthelezi, said by phone. “We are not saying the whole bill is not welcomed,” he said.

No Objections

The group failed to comment while the bill was making its passage through parliament, and the constitutionality of the proposed legislation wasn’t questioned, Deputy Director-General in the National Treasury Ismail Momoniat said, according to Johannesburg-based newspaper, Business Day. The bill does not deny the rights of any individuals and takes measures to fight corruption by increasing the obligation of financial institutions to know their customers, it said.

Barclays Africa Group Ltd., FirstRand Ltd., Standard Bank Group Ltd. and Nedbank Group Ltd. all said they would shut accounts related to the companies of the Gupta family, who is accused by critics of using their friendship with Zuma to exert influence over political appointments. Both the Guptas and Zuma deny the allegations.

The lenders all acted independently when deciding to close the accounts, have to comply with laws, such as money laundering rules, and need to ensure their clients abide by these regulations, the Banking Association South Africa said in April. Nazeem Howa, the chief executive officer of Oakbay Investments Ltd., a Gupta company, has said the steps are unfair and unprecedented, and threaten jobs at its mining and media units.

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