October 15, 2018 / 3:40 PM / a month ago

South Africa's Ramaphosa rejects report that he failed to stop looting at VBS bank

JOHANNESBURG, Oct 15 (Reuters) - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday rejected a newspaper report that he failed to stop 1.9 billion rand ($132 million) being illegally siphoned from VBS Mutual Bank.

A report commissioned by the central bank titled “The Great Bank Heist” found the money had been looted by several people from VBS, a small lender that bailed out former president Jacob Zuma after a corruption scandal.

City Press reported on Sunday that sources close to a major VBS shareholder said the shareholder had informed Ramaphosa about what was going on when he was deputy president. The shareholder reportedly started blowing the whistle in 2016.

In a statement, the president’s office said the allegation that Ramaphosa was informed of the looting at VBS and failed to take action was “baseless and unsubstantiated”.

The statement said it was brought to his attention through official channels including the National Treasury.

“The Presidency categorically rejects reports that ... Ramaphosa failed to take action on the VBS Bank saga despite being alerted to irregularities back in 2017,” his office said.

Ramaphosa urged prosecutors to act against the culprits.

The bank was thrust into the spotlight in 2016 when it provided a 7.8 million rand loan to Zuma to reimburse the state for upgrades to his private residence, after an outcry over lavish improvements including a swimming pool and amphitheatre.

In a ruling that hit Zuma financially and politically, the Constitutional Court ordered him to return some of the $16 million spent on enhancing the residence.

The report by the central bank released last week on its website said VBS was “corrupt and rotten to the core”.

In March, VBS was placed under curatorship by the central bank because of liquidity issues, meaning it can appoint an administrator to run the bank. ($1 = 14.3944 rand) (Reporting by James Macharia Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

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