After banking with Nedbank for 40 years, the institution made it clear when it closed Carlos Bonifácio’s accounts that it wanted nothing further to do with him. His crime? Being a reputational risk to the bank following allegations that he was involved in bribery. The charges against him have since been dropped.
FORMER Bosasa senior executive Carlos Bonifácio would love to have his Nedbank banking accounts re-instated following his acquittal this month from state capture-related corruption charges.
However, the former chief accountant of the now-defunct Bosasa, has little hope this will ever happen, as the bank, where he had been banking for 40 years, made it abundantly clear that it wanted nothing to do with him anymore. This was when it arbitrarily closed his accounts in October, 2019. His crime? Being a reputational risk to the bank following allegations that he was involved in bribery.
Nedbank declined to comment, saying it is bound by client confidentiality and is unable to discuss clients with third parties.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA)’s Investigating Directorate, which has been assigned state capture-related cases, officially dropped the charges against Bonifácio on June, 28 during his appearance in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court.
The NPA’s Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka has confirmed to Independent Media the dropping of charges, after Bonifácio had made a representation and said the final decision was taken in June.
“His version was fully investigated, and a decision was taken to withdraw the case against Mr Bonifácio after thorough consideration of the facts and the law applicable,” she said.
When asked whether there are possibilities that the charges might be reinstated soon, Seboka said: “We cannot give finality in that respect.”
Bonifácio’s accounts were shut down before Bosasa, which was also known as African Global Operations, collapsed.
“I would love to go back to Nedbank because it is a great bank with good administration and a very easy-to-use online banking system. But I don’t think I will ever be able to go back to them, because they made it clear that they will never again open an account for me,” he said.
Guilty before proved innocent
Bonifácio is yet another example of the “guilty before being proved innocent” decision-making processes that South Africa’s banks use to arbitrarily unbank clients, despite the Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) making it clear that it “does not give banks unlimited power”.
The act also does not empower the Financial Intelligence Centre (Fic) or banks to investigate financial crimes or participate in criminal prosecutions, and it does not require financial and other institutions to avoid doing business with any category of customers or to end their relationships with customers.
“The Fic assisted the SAPS with a fraud and corruption investigation into the awarding of a tender by a government department. The Fic analysed various financial transactions involving a senior government official’s bank accounts.”
When asked whether Nedbank reported any concerns it might have had for it to determine that Bonifácio was indeed a reputational risk to the Fic before unbanking him, the Fic said it could neither confirm nor deny the existence or non-existence of any regulatory report, and added that it might or might not have received it. It said it is regulated under section 41 of Fica to protect confidential information. It also said it was not able to comment on the relationship banks have with their clients.
“The Fic is also not involved in the decisions of banks in respect of their determinations relating to customers and/or potential customers. Furthermore, the Fic cannot interfere with a bank’s management of its business,” read a written response from the Fic.
Bonifácio had three cheque accounts and two investment accounts with Nedbank. These were all terminated following negative media publicity emanating from the former Bosasa chief operating officer, Angelo Agrizzi blowing the whistle about the then alleged corrupt relationship between the company and the government.
Bonifácio said he was aware that four of his middle and lower-management colleagues were also unbanked because of their association with Bosasa.
In a letter sent to him on October 2, 2019 Nedbank said after reviewing its relationship with him, it decided to no longer continue the relationship with him, as he could pose a reputational risk to “us”. It then gave him 30 business days’ notice to find alternative bankers to move his funds to.
Bonifácio was charged with corruption and money laundering along with Bosasa former fleet manager Frans Hendrik Steyn Vorster, who passed away on June 26, 2021. Others still facing related charges were Bosasa chief financial officer Andries van Tonder, former national Correctional Services commissioner Linda Mti, and former Correctional Services chief financial officer Patrick Gillingham.
It was reported that Bonifácio had allegedly participated in paying a bribe of R180 000 to Gillingham in exchange for Bosasa being awarded a R1.6 billion tender from Correctional Services.
Before collapsing, Bosasa was renamed African Global Operations. Its chief executive officer, Gavin Watson, died in a mysterious car crash in Johannesburg in August, 2019 in what many believed was suicide. His death came shortly after Agrizzi had spilled the beans and implicated him and others in wrongdoing at Bosasa.
On the closure of his accounts, Bonifácio attempted to open an alternative account with Capitec Bank which on October 25, 2019 rejected his application, as the bank “reserves its right not to open a bank account in your name and accept you as a client”.
Luckily, other banks agreed to accommodate him.
“After 40 years with Nedbank, I was given 30 days’ to find alternative transactional bankers without even affording me the opportunity to defend myself, which is ironic given the much-publicised allegations of state capture against Nedbank,” he said.
He was referring to commission chairperson Chief Justice Raymond Zondo’s remarks in part five of his report, where he lashed out at the banks for arbitrarily shutting down accounts without providing concrete proof that affected clients were indeed a reputational risk.
Justice Zondo had recommended the amendment of the legislation that governs the banks to ensure fairness in their decisions.
“In a constitutional democracy like South Africa, where we are supposed to enjoy a constitutional right according to Section 22 of the Constitution for freedom of trade, how can one expect to trade (or live) in the modern world without a bank account?
“By the way, this also happened to some of my colleagues who were not charged nor mentioned anywhere in any report – simply due to the fact that they were bona fide employees of African Global Operations,” said Bonifácio.
When asked about how he feels about Agrizzi implicating him in wrongdoing, Bonifácio, who was forced to retire due to the corruption saga, said Agrizzi had a personal vendetta. “He was not a whistle-blower. He was out to destroy Bosasa and Gavin Watson, because he was fired.”
Describing the extent of damage to his reputation, Bonifácio said after leaving Bosasa he attempted to find alternative employment.
“During the interviews the moment I mentioned Bosasa or African Global the interview ends and that was it, I could not get work because of that. There was a lot of damage, not just to me but also to 4 200 people who worked there. The court cost me a lot of money, even though my attorney was very good with his fees,” he said.
Watson’s nephew, Jared Watson, also believed that Bonifácio received unfair treatment from Nedbank. He remarked that: “The reality is that the Constitution affords all a right to trade, but if one cannot obtain a bank account that constitutional right is removed from you.
“The reality is globally we are moving towards a cashless society, so how will anyone be able to exercise their constitutional right to trade, if the banks are afforded the unilateral power to deprive anyone they wish of that right?”
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