SME Bank inquiry eyes more individuals

13 January 2021 | Local News

OGONE TLHAGE



WINDHOEK

More individuals linked to the SME Bank looting scheme are expected to be summoned to testify in front of an inquiry set up to help recover over N$247 million stolen from the bank.

This was confirmed to Namibian Sun by the chairperson of the SME Bank commission of inquiry, Advocate Natasha Bassingthwaighte, yesterday.

“Whether other persons will be called in will depend on the liquidators and the evidence led so far,” she said.

She added that the commission has not completed its probe and that she could not provide a date by when the enquiry will be finalised.

“It is a confidential inquiry; it is not complete [yet] but I cannot give you any details,” she said.

SME Bank was closed down after it was unearthed that well-connected officials - ranging from politicians, business personalities and bank managers - were part of a group of individuals who benefitted from the bank, despite not meeting its criteria.

Most of these people used the money to buy luxury cars and posh apartments, and to bankroll their opulent lifestyles.

Some beneficiaries, such as personal assistant to agriculture minister, Esau Mbako, and Development Bank of Namibia chairperson Tania Hangula have already been brought in for questioning.

The two got a joint N$8.1 million from the bank.

SME Bank liquidators Ian McLaren and David Bruni already obtained a court judgement to attach assets of Mbako in order to recover over N$900 000 he received from the bank.

‘No safety threats’

When High Court judge Hosea Angula granted an inquiry into the demise of the bank meant to help small- and medium-sized enterprises in 2018, there were fears regarding the safety of the officials who would form part of the enquiry.

Asked about her safety as chairperson of the inquiry, Bassingthwaighte told Namibian Sun that she did not think it was compromised.

“There have been no safety threats,” she said.

Million-dollar demise

The demise of the bank was sealed in 2017 when the Bank of Namibia placed it under curatorship after it had been established that between N$180 million and N$196 million had been invested under questionable circumstances in South Africa.

The bank’s provisional liquidators were in August 2018 granted a lifeline through a court order in the South Gauteng High Court to recover money suspected to have been syphoned to that country.

In terms of the order, four bank accounts, holding a combined N$43.8 million, have been frozen until further legal proceedings. An amount of N$12.5 million is in one of the accounts in the name of the company Moody Blue Trade and Invest 14, according to First National Bank (FNB), where the account is held.

The other three accounts, all in the name of the company AMFS Solutions, are also at FNB, and hold amounts of N$29.7 million, N$1.3 million and N$230 000, The Namibian reported in August 2018.

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