Bank of Baroda has reportedly dumped the Guptas, leaving scores of Oakbay Investments’ employees in a state of panic about how they will be paid their salaries in the coming months.
Speaking on condition anonymity, workers of the Gupta-owned media-arm of Oakbay – The New Age newspapers and ANN7 – on Tuesday confirmed that management broke the news at a meeting called shortly after midday.
“We understand that Bank of Baroda has given them (Guptas) a month to find a new home.
“This is really worrying,” said a worker at the meeting.
The employees, including journalists, said they were summoned to a staff meeting at the company offices in Midrand on Tuesday afternoon.
Addressed by Employee Relations Manager Kgomotso Amazu, staff were told about the India-based bank’s intention to cut ties with Gupta-owned businesses.
One source said that after the briefing, “Kgomotso asked us to sign a petition because the Bank of Baroda have given the Guptas notice to say that they will no longer be doing business with them.
“She (Amazu) said they needed the employees’ support to try and fight the decision and get the Bank of Baroda to reverse its decision.”
Another employee said: “It was just her and ANN7 news editor, Abhinav Sahay, addressing us.
“It appears that the other managers were briefed before us. So the two just came down to address the remainder of the staff.”
The employees said that they were not shown the letter from the Bank of Baroda and were not aware when exactly the bank would execute its decision, one that would likely impact on the payment of salaries as well as creditors.
Amazu confirmed the staff meeting was held but did not want to comment on what transpired.
She referred all inquiries to the senior general manager, Gary Naidoo. Naidoo did not respond to numerous calls.
Oakbay lawyer Gert van der Merwe also referred The Star to Naidoo.
The Star contacted the Bank of Baroda but were told its Joburg office general manager, Shaikh Rauf, has since gone back to India.
In March, when news first emerged of the India-based lender winding down its relationship with companies related to the Gupta family to ensure it is in compliance with banking rules, an unnamed Oakbay spokesperson dismissed it as fake news.
“This is just more evidence of a campaign, by some against Oakbay, based, as usual, on nothing more than innuendo,” the Oakbay spokesperson said then.
The troubles for the Oakbay group of companies began in April last year when a number of banks and other financial and auditing firms decided to terminate their relationship with the Guptas following a scathing report that accused the family of being embroiled in state capture.
Although the family has denied the allegations, a series of emails have linked them to several government officials.
On April 6 last year, First National Bank became the last major South African bank to close the accounts of Gupta-owned investment company, Oakbay.
This happened after numerous banks, including Absa, had earlier that month also made similar decisions.
Other companies included Sasfin Capital and auditing firm KPMG. KPMG seemed to take the decision when South Africans became aware of the Gupta family’s influence in government and state-owned enterprises.
KPMG was the auditor of all Gupta owned-businesses. KPMG chief executive Trevor Hoole reportedly told staff via an email that, “In our view, the association risk is simply much too great for us to continue”.
In their bid to reverse the decisions, Oakbay-owned companies then undertook to start setting up meetings to try to mend relations with the banks and other institutions.
The then Oakbay Investment CEO Nazeem Howa made the move after shares in Oakbay Resources and Energy dropped by 16% in April last year.
After all else failed, the matter was referred to the high court in Pretoria in which the Guptas argued that the move by the banks was illegal, but judgment has been reserved since March this year.
A Bank of Baroda employee, known only as Dhjaat, refused to reveal the details of the termination with Oakbay.
“We only communicate with our client,” was all he said before cutting off the phone.