Start main page content

Holding Apartheid's Banks to Account

- Lee-Anne Bruce

Open Secrets and CALS go to Europe to demand accountability for the international banks that financed apartheid

New evidence shows that two European banks were at the centre of the apartheid era international arms money laundering machinery. For nearly two decades, Belgium’s Kredietbank and its subsidiary in Luxembourg were responsible for facilitating up to 70% of all illegal arms transactions that allowed the apartheid government to secretly buy weapons despite mandatory UN arms sanctions. These and other banks have never been held accountable for what a leading international bribery expert describes as ‘one of the most important global money-laundering schemes ever.’

In the face of widespread impunity, can these financial giants be held to account?

Open Secrets in partnership with the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) are taking the fight for accountability for South Africa’s historic economic crimes to Europe using international accountability frameworks. The complaint is against Belgium’s Kredietbank (now known as the KBC Group) and its subsidiary in Luxembourg (KBL) in terms of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises.

The conduct of the bank exemplifies impunity amongst private actors who collaborated with the apartheid regime. It also shines a spotlight on similar contemporary practices involving major financial institutions that continue to undermine human rights across the globe.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is one of the few international mechanisms available to hold businesses accountable for their role in human rights abuses. The OECD has various contact points in member countries that are responsible for ensuring that multinational enterprises operating in their jurisdictions comply with the business operations and accountability standards set out in the OECD Guidelines. Open Secrets and CALS will be laying the OECD complaint at the banks’ doorstep by approaching the Belgium and Luxembourg National Contact Points.

As a courtesy, both banks will be served with a physical copy of the complaint.

Representatives from both Open Secrets and CALS will be in Europe during South Africa’s Freedom Week to launch the OECD complaint and hold media briefings from the 24th – 27th of April.

For more information about this intervention, Open Secrets and CALS will be holding a briefing at CALS’s offices at the University of Witwatersrand from 12:30-14:00 on Thursday, 19th of April 2018.

Twitter: #ApartheidsBanks 

For inquiries, please contact:

From Open Secrets:

From CALS:


Open Secrets is an independent non-profit with a mission to promote private sector accountability for economic crime and related human rights violations in Southern Africa. Our vision is to promote the right to truth and contribute towards social justice by using research, advocacy and litigation to hold powerful private actors to account for violations of human rights. Read more about our work at


The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) is a public interest law organisation based at the School of Law at the University of the Witwatersrand. Founded in 1978 by Professor John Dugard, CALS continues to use a combination of research, advocacy and litigation to advance human rights and social justice. Read more about our work at