JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma has signed the anti-money laundering bill FICA, which allows increased scrutiny of the bank accounts of “prominent individuals”, including himself, into law, his office said on Saturday.
The country risked being kicked out of global fraud monitor, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), if the Financial Intelligence Centre Amendment (FICA) bill was not signed by June.
The bill, intended to bolster the fight against global financial crime by making it easier to identify the ultimate owners of companies and accounts - including those of “domestic prominent influential persons” - was passed by parliament in May.
But Zuma sent in it back to the legislature saying he was concerned about the legality of provisions allowing searches without warrants.
“The President is now satisfied that the Act addresses the constitutional concerns he had raised about warrantless searches,” said the statement from the presidency.
Opposition parties and civil society groups speculated that the stance was related to a fight between the Treasury, which sponsored the legislation, and the Guptas, a family of businessmen close to Zuma.
In December, former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan asked the High Court to rule he was not allowed to interfere with decisions by South Africa’s major banks to close business accounts of Oakbay Investments, owned by brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta.
Gordhan, axed by Zuma as finance minister in March, said in court papers the Gupta family was waging an “organised campaign” to smear him and the Treasury. The Gupta family in turn accused Gordhan of leading a conspiracy to ruin their business interests.
The court has yet to rule on the matter.
Zuma has said he is close to the family but denies being under their influence.
Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Toby Chopra