Oakbay Investments on Wednesday told the high court in Pretoria that there was no need for Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to seek a declaratory order relating to the Gupta-owned entity’s wrangle with South Africa’s major banks.
“The Supreme Court of Appeal held that even a court does not have the power or obligation to interfere in the private relationship between a banker and its client. It really is remarkable that the minister seeks affirmation by this court of a decision that he took, that is he was not empowered to intervene. That is the thrust of our argument,” Advocate Cedric Puckrin, for Oakbay Investments argued in court.
“There is nothing, with respect, contradictory in the positions that we have adopted. We of course accept the law but we say that is no reason to bother the courts with what we are going to demonstrate is an idle, abstract, moot point and take up the time of this court and the gallery behind me, with what is really a settled issue in law.”
Puckrin said it would be an untenable situation if all government officials rushed to courts seeking affirmation of their decisions.
“You might imagine what a chaos would be in these courts if on every occasion a functionary or organ of State receives the most element legal advice yet nonetheless it decides to affirm it in court. It would be untenable,” said Puckrin.
Gordhan has approached the court, seeking a declaratory judgment endorsing that he cannot intervene in the dispute between Oakbay Investments and the major banks that closed the company’s bank accounts.
Puckrin argued that counsel for Nedbank, Advocate Alfred Cockrell, had incorrectly told the court that there was “an alive dispute at the time” Gordhan made the court application.
“Long before then, the legal position [that Gordhan cannot lawfully intervene] had been accepted. Secondly, there was no letter of demand. There was absolutely no indication that the minister was suddenly going to bring this application in order to allow Oakbay to consider its situation,” said Puckrin.
Earlier, counsel for Standard Bank, Advocate Vincent Maleka, told the court that Oakbay Investments wanted Gordhan to intervene illegally in its dispute with top South African banks.
Maleka said when the dispute arose between Oakbay Investments and the banks, the Gupta-owned entity’s “preferred method” of settling the row was unlawful seeking a member of the national executive to intervene.
He described the dispute as a “private relationship” between the banks and their client. He said South Africa had competition watchdogs that would have been the port of call if the financial institutions were acting unlawfully.
Standard Bank indicated on Wednesday that it is seeking an order that would bar members of the executive – Cabinet ministers and the President – from interference in the bank/client relationships.