An Al Jazeera investigation has uncovered an intricate gold smuggling and money laundering operation implicating key officials at three major South African banks: Standard Bank, ABSA Bank, and Sasfin Bank. These officials have allegedly been working in collusion with Mohamed Khan, a money launderer for Simon Rudland, a cigarette magnate and smuggler.
The investigation, part of the Gold Mafia series by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit (I-Unit), reveals that these bank officers facilitated dubious money transfers from Khan’s companies and deleted evidence from computer systems in exchange for regular bribes.
Khan, also known as Mo Dollars, heads South Africa-based financial services firms PKSA and Salt Asset Management. His primary client is Zimbabwean millionaire Simon Rudland, owner of Gold Leaf Tobacco, one of Southern Africa’s largest cigarette brands.
The money laundering scheme, which involved front companies, fake invoices, bribery, and gold, centers around several companies with bank accounts worldwide. PKSA and Salt Asset Management claim to transfer funds for tobacco, clothing, and gold imports that never actually enter South Africa.
To ensure that these transactions go unnoticed, Mo Dollars allegedly bribes influential officers across the three banks. Bribes include monthly payments, paid holidays, and house renovations. The exposé identifies individuals at Sasfin Bank, Standard Bank, and ABSA Bank who were allegedly involved in the money laundering operation.
Simon Rudland has denied involvement in the sale of illicit cigarettes, gold smuggling, or sanctions busting. Mohamed Khan has also denied allegations of money laundering or other criminal activity and involvement in bribery.
Sasfin Bank stated that it is taking vigorous action against suspended and former employees and clients of its foreign exchange unit. ABSA and Standard Bank have expressed their commitment to investigating the matter and assisting in any legal investigation.
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Vivian Naicker, a senior manager in the compliance division at Standard Bank, allegedly helped Khan’s companies receive the documentation needed to evade the scrutiny of South Africa’s central bank. Naicker communicated with Khan using a pseudonym, Vic Grimes, according to emails between the two.
Videsh Seeripat, a relationship manager at ABSA, was listed in the ledgers as receiving $800 per month. His job was to open bank accounts in the name of people who were not present to apply themselves, a mechanism that allowed Mo Dollars to start accounts using fake identities.
At Sasfin Bank, Hussain Choonara, who was in charge of foreign exchange payments, was listed as receiving $1,600 per month, according to ledgers maintained by Mo Dollars and his aides. Choonara allegedly ensured that his staff pushed through the work without question and advised Mo Dollars on who else needed bribing at Sasfin.
The I-Unit obtained thousands of documents and conducted interviews with Mohamed Khan’s former colleagues, including his brother Dawood Khan, who helped forge documents. Another of Khan’s former partners, who is referred to as Jimmy, and Khan’s ex-wife Wardah Latief, were also interviewed.
The Gold Mafia investigation is a four-part series that shows how multiple gangs smuggle gold from Zimbabwe and use it to launder large sums of money. The investigation provides documentary evidence of the process and includes interviews with individuals involved in the operations.
Simon Rudland has accused an unidentified third party of conducting a smear campaign against him. Gold Leaf Tobacco has denied involvement in money laundering or the illegal trade in gold, while Liberty Gold and Vantage Leaf have denied knowing involvement in money laundering or fraudulent invoicing.
ABSA Bank and Sasfin Bank have launched investigations into the matter and suspended employees suspected of involvement. Standard Bank has stated that it has a zero-tolerance stance on fraud and criminality and will assist in any legal investigation.
The Gold Mafia investigation highlights the need for enhanced measures to combat money laundering and corruption in the banking sector, including stricter regulations, increased oversight, and greater accountability.
It also underscores the importance of investigative journalism in uncovering such illicit activities and holding those responsible accountable for their actions.
In recent years, South Africa has been plagued by a number of high-profile corruption scandals involving government officials, state-owned enterprises, and private companies. These scandals have eroded public trust in institutions and highlighted the need for stronger anti-corruption measures and greater transparency.
The Gold Mafia investigation adds to the growing body of evidence indicating that corruption and money laundering are pervasive in South Africa’s financial sector, and that more needs to be done to tackle these issues. It also serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a free and independent media that can hold power to account and uncover the truth.
As the investigation continues, it remains to be seen what actions will be taken against those implicated in the Gold Mafia scandal. However, it is clear that the revelations have exposed serious flaws in South Africa’s financial system and raised important questions about the role of banks in facilitating illicit activities.
In the coming months and years, it will be important for regulators, law enforcement agencies, and the banking sector to work together to strengthen anti-corruption measures and restore public trust in the financial system. The Gold Mafia investigation has shown that this will require a concerted effort and a sustained commitment to transparency and accountability.
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