The global fight against corruption, money laundering and terrorist funding activities has seen the obligation to ‘know your client’ become an inexorable international trend, which has been brought even closer to home with the Gupta, VBS, Steinhoff and Bosasa delinquencies.
To bring South Africa in line with international efforts and to meet our commitments to the G20 in this regard, government promulgated The Financial Intelligence Centre Act (Fica) of 2001 (amended in 2017) to create the Financial Intelligence Centre, which has become one of the most effective institutions fighting corruption and crime in our society.
Fica places the obligation on a wide range of professions and financial services companies to ‘know your client’, particularly with regard to who owns them.
While section 26 of the Companies Act gives any member of the public the right to request the share register of a private company, the practicalities of accessing this information tend to defeat the intention.
In 2013 Moneyweb journalist Julius Cobbett requested the share register of Nova Property Group Holdings, which was involved in the Sharemax property syndication. Nova refused to provide it, and the matter went all way to the Constitutional Court which, in 2016, dismissed Nova’s appeal against the Supreme Court ruling against it, settling once and for all the principle that any person has an unqualified right to access the securities register of any company.
However, while the right is there, the process to uplift this information is onerous. WOW, amaBhungane and the Helen Suzman Foundation have, for the last two years, been petitioning the Department of Trade and Industry to introduce legislation into the Companies Amendment Act which will obligate private companies to list beneficial shareholders on CIPC, as is currently the case with directors. We hope that we are being heard.
Fica does state that outside sources may be used to verify data, and WOW has accumulated, over 39 years, ownership information on 180,000 companies. WOWEB users are increasingly using this information for know your client purposes.