Billionaire accused of funding Mugabe wins a court ruling

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – John Bredenkamp, the South African billionaire accused of bankrolling Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, has won an interim order preventing Standard Bank from closing his bank accounts.

In December, Standard Bank wrote to Bredenkamp, who holds several accounts with it, notifying him of its decision to close his accounts.

The bank’s action followed a decision by the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to list Breedenkamp and his associated entities as "specially designated nationals" on November 25.

This meant Bredenkamp and his companies became subject to the sanctions imposed and enforced by the US office.

‘Standard Bank faced material business risks’

Standard Bank became aware of the listing and that the US office suspected Bredenkamp of "being involved in illicit business activities, including tobacco trading, arms trafficking, oil distribution and diamond extraction, and of being a confidant and financial backer of Mugabe".

In their papers before Judge Mahomed Jajbhay of the Johannesburg High Court, Standard Bank argued that it was worried about its reputation.

The bank believed domestic and foreign business partners "might believe or suspect that accounts held at Standard Bank would or could be used to facilitate unlawful or unethical acts".

"An association with a conductor or a financier of allegedly illegal or improper transactions might well undermine a bank’s hard-won and fragile national and international reputation in the eyes of regulatory bodies, financial institutions, media organisations and members of the public worldwide," the bank argued.

"In addition to the risk of harm to its reputation, Standard Bank faced material business risks to its relationship with foreign banks."

Bredenkamp challenged the bank’s decision in the high court, saying he had lodged appeals against the US office’s decision to impose sanctions on him. He also argued that if Standard Bank closed his accounts, none of the other banks would want to have any dealings with him.

Yesterday was the date set down by Standard Bank to implement its decision, but Judge Jajbhay granted Bredenkamp an interim order blocking it from closing his accounts.

Bredenkamp denied allegations that he was a Mugabe crony. He said he had been imprisoned by the "Mugabe regime" and it had taken his Zimbabwean passport, but he had won the case.

Judge Jajbhay said the termination by of Bredenkamp’s accounts would be "oppressive" because, in the circumstances, Bredenkamp and his companies would be unable to find other banking facilities.

"A business entity must, to carry out its objects, have one or more bank accounts. This is not simply because transactions through a bank are convenient."