Banking group FirstRand goes to court today in an urgent bid to prevent
magazine Noseweek from publishing a list of clients who invested in
offshore tax structures through its former private banking arm,
Ansbacher, writes Chantelle Benjamin in Bus9ness Day.

Noseweek, which has run a series of articles questioning the legality of Ansbacher’s offshore tax structures, has said it will publish some of the 80 names of FirstRand’s clients who invested in a scheme that allowed them to build up a tax-free nest egg offshore under false pretences.

FirstRand, in its application to the Cape High Court last week, said allegations that Ansbacher was involved in money laundering, and that its offshore tax structure, Duisberg, was intended to assist clients to evade tax, would taint the image of the clients.

Naming them would imply that they were involved in an “illegal and fraudulent tax evasion scheme”, it said. The banking group said the list in Noseweek’s possession included the names of clients who did not invest in Duisberg, but in other Ansbacher offshore structures that were not under scrutiny.

FirstRand is asking the court for an interim interdict prohibiting Noseweek from “identifying” FirstRand clients or using their information. It also wants the magazine’s editor, Martin Welz, to hand over the list.

The magazine has already identified some Discovery directors, including CE Adrian Gore, as being among FirstRand’s “wealthy” clients who had offshore accounts.

FirstRand claims Welz received the documents illegally from a disgruntled former tax consultant, Barry Spitz, who is embroiled in a civil case involving R2,3bn in outstanding commission. It said it had a confidentiality agreement with Spitz not to reveal information in the documents, which means Welz obtained the documents improperly.

In an advertisement, Spitz yesterday denied the claim , saying he was not “an informant”.

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