Gupta-owned company questions State Attorney’s authority to act on behalf of Gordhan

In a new twist in the tussle between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Gupta-controlled companies‚ Sahara Computers has launched an application disputing the authority of the State Attorney to act for the minister.

Sahara Computers filed a notice with the high court in Pretoria two weeks ago directing Gordhan to satisfy the court that the State Attorney was properly authorised to act for him.

Sahara also wants Gordhan to pay the costs of its application in his personal capacity.

The application comes as the court is due to hear an application launched by Gordhan on Tuesday.

Gordhan applied for an order declaring that he is not by law empowered to intervene with a decision by several South African banks to terminate the accounts held with them by the Oakbay group of companies‚ controlled by the Gupta family.

Gordhan made this application following a number of letters from then Oakbay Investments CEO Nazeem Howa last year asking the minister to assist the companies after their bank accounts were closed.

Sahara and a number of other Gupta-controlled companies were represented by Van der Merwe & Associates attorneys.

However on March 16‚ Van der Merwe & Associates were substituted as attorneys of record for Sahara and Stein Scop Attorneys Incorporated were appointed as attorneys for Sahara.

The next day‚ Stein Scop served a letter on the State Attorney questioning its authority to act on behalf of the minister. It also filed a notice with the court.

The State Attorney filed a notice on Friday objecting to the late challenge by Sahara. The State Attorney also objected to the purported filing of “supplementary” heads of argument by Sahara.

In an application filed on Monday‚ Sahara Computers CEO Stephanus Nel stated under oath that Sahara believed the minister’s conduct in his official capacity was actually for his personal benefit.

In supplementary heads of argument in the Gordhan application filed on Friday‚ Sahara said not a single party contended that the minister had a power to intervene in a private banking relationship.

“Despite the absence of the (dispute) between the parties‚ the minister persists in asking this court to exercise a discretion in his favour. The question is why‚” Sahara said in its heads of argument.

Sahara also said if the companies were aggrieved by the minister’s decision not to intervene in their dispute with the banks‚ it would have been for them to approach the court for relief to compel the minister to discharge his duty.

“They did not and have not done so.”

Sahara said it sought a personal costs order against the minister in his application.

It said Gordhan had been provided with sufficient and sound legal advice on his powers; that he need not interfere.

“Yet the minister embarked on this frolic of his own by bringing an unnecessary application.”

Sahara said despite Oakbay accepting his interpretation of his powers and asking him to withdraw his application‚ the minister had chosen to forge ahead.

“This litigation is evidently unnecessary and is pursued with an ulterior motive.”