J.P. Morgan & Co. has once again come under attack for dealings with South Africa, this time because of a plan to underwrite a $100 million Eurobond deal for an independent finance agency there.
The deal, for the Independent Development Trust, would raise money for housing and other projects in South African townships where impoverished blacks live.
The Africa Fund, a New York-based group that since its founding in 1966 has pressed for political change in Africa, circulated a statement calling on municipal officials to protest Morgan's proposed underwriting of the Independent Development Trust issue.
While the trust says it has no ties to the authorities, the deal would be guaranteed by the South African government. And, according to the Africa Fund, the African National Congress opposes the deal.
But Morgan officials say the position of the ANC, the largest black political movement in South Africa, is not yet clear. It remains murky, they said, even though yesterday the congress issued a statement condemning the transaction and denouncing as "bogus" an earlier statement Morgan had circulated purporting to show the congress favors the deal.
The statement criticizing the deal bears the imprimatur of Cyril Ramaphosa, secretary general of the political group. But another ANC leaders have voiced support for the deal, according to Morgan spokesman Richard A. Mahony Jr.
"These various statements have created a great deal of confusion and until it's sorted out the financing cannot proceed," he said.
The whole deal will be on hold until the congress fully commits to it, Mr. Mahony said.
"It was never Morgan's intention to proceed with this deal without the full support of the ANC and other groups in South Africa," Mr. Mahony said.
"The financing will not be launched without the clear support of the ANC," he added.
Morgan's last tangle with South African politics came in April, when the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union published a report charging the bank with "supporting apartheid" by processing American Depository Receipts for shares in South African c mpanies.
At the time, Morgan officials complained about being singled out for punishment when other investment banks, such as Goldman, Sachs & Co. and First Boston Corp., have more demonstrable ties to South Africa.
The charges have caused headaches for the bank's municipal bond staff, many of whose clients are governments bound by local or state antiapartheid regulations.
The Independent Development Trust, a one-year-old financing agent based in Cape Town, is free of ties to the South African government or to the country's black political groups, according to Morgan officials.
And according to the Africa Fund, allowing an agency backed by the South African government to raise money in the capital markets would violate the African National Congress's stance on sanctions. The African National Congress has recommended that local sanctions stay in place, even though the U.S. government has dropped sanctions against South Africa.
While Morgan officials focused on the possible support for the deal, activists at the Africa fund concentrated on opposition to it.
"You can stop this bond issue," the Africa Fund said in the notice it sent to municipal officials this week. "Cities and states with anti-apartheid legislation should make clear to J.P. Morgan that it risks losing their business."
In the case of the clothing and textile workers' union, some issuers threatened to stop dealing with Morgan, or, in at least one case, quietly kept the firm off its general obligation syndicate until it came time to sell bonds. Then, Morgan was kept from the upper echelons of underwriters.
And in the end, the union's charges prompted the investment bank, with assets of roughly $100 billion, to change its policies on depositary receipts.
Already, the Africa Fund's message has gotten through to some municipal officials. J. Paul Brownridge, the city treasurer of Los Angeles, in a letter yesterday told Morgan chief executive officer Dennis Weatherstone that "if the issuance of the bond goes forward, it may place J.P. Morgan & Company in violation of the city's sanctions[s]" against South Africa.
"The Mayor and the Council of this city have determined that sanctions will be vigorously enforced, until all vestiges of apartheid has [sic] been removed and that [sic] the right to vote has been extended to all South Africans."
Mr. Mahony of Morgan said the letter did not matter, because Los Angeles's laws already prohibit the firm from doing business there.
"Morgan has not pursued business with the city of Los Angeles because the city has strict restrictions that prohibit Morgan and other banks with correspondent banking activities in South Africa from doing business with the city. California is irrelevant as far as the IDT is concerned because they've already disqualified us. It's a little odd to get a letter saying we're disqualified from business we haven't even pursued."