back to article Ubuntu daddy Mark Shuttleworth loses fight to cancel $20m bank fee

Mark Shuttleworth has lost his long-running fight to reverse a US$20m (£12.8m) bank charge levied after he transferred a fortune out of South Africa. In 2001, Shuttleworth, the founder of Ubuntu Linux maker Canonical, emigrated from his home nation of South Africa to the Isle of Man. In 2008, he tried to withdraw R2.5bn (US$ …

  1. Shannon Jacobs
    Holmes

    Already knew his judgment was less than perfect

    Been trying to use Ubuntu for years, in spite of the frequently flawed decisions of the big donor financial model...

    Hey, here's a silly idea. Listen to the small donors, too. Let us help pay for the features we want, even including support of features we don't want broken.

    *sigh* I'm not in the mood to waste more keystrokes again, but details available upon polite and sincere request from someone who can actually use them... I'm increasingly convinced the only way to do things is to do them myself, which (1) would require quitting my current job, and (2) require more years of life than I probably have left. (Bad sign when too many of your old friends have passed on already...)

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Ubuntu 10.04 with default Grub ate my PC's MBR

      A nice $20m kick in the ass? LOL. Serves you right.

      Excuse me a second, HA HA HA HA HA HA.

      There, I feel better already.

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Happy

        Re: Ubuntu 10.04 with default Grub ate my PC's MBR

        But I still feel better.

    2. ricegf
      Facepalm

      But Mark really DOES help pay for the features he wants! You?

      "Hey, here's a silly idea. Listen to the small donors, too. Let us help pay for the features we want, even including support of features we don't want broken."

      You're being sarcastic, I suppose? Because if you've downloaded Ubuntu over the past few years (from ubuntu.com/download/desktop), surely you would have noticed the second screen - the one that says "Tell us what we should do more... and put your money where your mouth is ;)", with the opportunity to donate money to various Ubuntu initiatives. I typically donate $25. You?

      But you needn't stop there. If you're a Gnome fan, for example, try gnome.org/friends - you can Adopt a Hacker or Become a Philanthropist, or anything in between. Or maybe you prefer Cinnamon - try linuxmint.com/donors.php. Or maybe the huge KDE software system is more to your liking? kde.org/community/donations/

      Your offer to tell volunteers what they should be doing is certain to be greatly appreciated, however, a nice little stack of certificates of appreciation would go further toward making your dreams reality that mere suggestions. Just... a suggestion. ;-)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    A lot of that goes on in South Africa where people try to separate you from your money, often with the assistance of Mr Smith and Mr Wesson.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82u8c2KSCYo

  3. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. joeldillon

      Given the courts couldn't decide which set of rules were applicable, why would an accountant? Not to mention when such sums of money are involved, in a country like South Africa, the law tends to be a bit malleable if the government can make a quick buck.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Clearly you don't get how South Africa works. Nothing the accountant could have done would have resolved this... Don't for one second think that he didn't consult accountants to see how his exposure might be minimised.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. icesenshi
      Thumb Down

      3 courts, 3 different rulings. An accountant is supposed to know better?

  4. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    "he he he he" chortles the Zoomster in glee as another R250mill is made available for upgrades and enhancements at Nkandla....

  5. auburnman

    Multimillionaire loses pocket change

    The main thing I'm taking away from this article is that a flash pad in New York can be more expensive than a holiday IN SPACE.

    1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      Re: Multimillionaire loses pocket change

      But you do get to keep the flash pad for longer than eight days....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Multimillionaire loses pocket change

        IN SPACE!

  6. Andy Non
    Joke

    Oh crap!

    Do you mean to say that all those emails I deleted from someone wanting help to move millions out of Africa were legit?

    1. Bob Wheeler
      Joke

      Re: Oh crap!

      Genua had once controlled the river mouth and taxed its traffic in a way that couldn't be called piracy because it was done by the city government.

      -- Local-body politics explained

      (Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Consumer Banking is gonna die

    AppleBank, GoogleBank, CortanaBank... This kind of thing is why.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: Consumer Banking is gonna die

      if you dont actually get why your statement is completely irrelevant I pity you. Hint none of them are above the laws of the countries they operate in, especially when most countries require you to have a banking license before being able to touch consumers money. They all caved when it was merely about censorship what on earth makes you think it will be different when moolah is involved.

      Even Paypal has US, EU and OZ banking licenses.

      #BIGBAGOFFAIL

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: Consumer Banking is gonna die

        I'm sure he believes in the future all banking will be in the Cloud, using bitcoins, and their money will be every bit as safe as the money in Mt Gox. Oh wait...

  8. Robert Grant

    Living in SA now

    And this sort of chicanery is totally normal, unfortunately. The government (whose president, amongst a million other blunders, has said on record that corruption is okay) sees cash leaving and grab at some of it.

    1. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Living in SA now

      There is always someone who wants your hard earned money. It is a shame the court ruled in the banks favour

    2. Fink-Nottle

      Re: Living in SA now

      > this sort of chicanery is totally normal, unfortunately ... sees cash leaving and grab at some of it.

      The idea that this case is some form of state sponsored piracy or corrupt practice is nonsense.

      South Africa's policy of exchange control legislation was first promulgated in 1961. Shuttleworth , like all South Africans would have been well aware of exchange control regulations at the time he and / or his legal financial team allowed the funds to enter SA following the Thwaite transaction.

      The fact of the matter is Shuttleworth attempted to claim special privilege under the law - and when things didn't go his way, he attempted to change the law motivated purely by greed and self interest.

      That he has not been successful in his attempt to subvert the law speaks volumes for the integrity of Judicial system in South Africa.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Living in SA now

        "The idea that this case is some form of state sponsored piracy or corrupt practice is nonsense."

        Just because it's been around for 50 years, doesn't means it's not state sponsored piracy.

        Their excuse that they're trying to help their local economy too is strange. Shuttleworth has a foundation for encouraging African and SA based ventures. Since the SA finance minister personally made this piracy happen, there's _zero_ chance the Shuttleworth Foundation will now encourage new ventures to launch in SA. (any sound venture will likely be told to launch in non-SA)

        That isn't going to help the SA economy at all.

        1. Fink-Nottle

          Re: Living in SA now

          > Since the SA finance minister personally made this piracy happen, there's _zero_ chance the Shuttleworth Foundation will now encourage new ventures to launch in SA.

          The point is, SA's finance minister did not personally go after Shuttleworth. You might as well say that VAT in the UK is a personal attack by the Chancellor on Beardy Branson.

          Capital flight and exchange control are basic economics principles. I came across this paper which explains exchange control in SA-ian context. Like Bill Clinton said, 'It's the economy, stupid'.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Living in SA now

            "Like Bill Clinton said, 'It's the economy, stupid'."

            Not sure why you'd use _Bill I-did-not-have-relations-with-that-woman Clinton_ as an example of credible. ;)

      2. Robert Grant

        Re: Living in SA now

        >South Africa's policy of exchange control legislation was first promulgated in 1961. Shuttleworth , like all South Africans would have been well aware of exchange control regulations at the time he and / or his legal financial team allowed the funds to enter SA following the Thwaite transaction.

        He's already passed exchange control. This is an extra levy to pay for a second fire pool or whatever.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Living in SA now

          > He's already passed exchange control. This is an extra levy ...

          No, it's not an extra levy, it's simply the levy proscribed in exchange control regulations. Exchange control regs allowed X million to exit the country at minimal cost. Amounts over X million were subject to a hefty levy. That's the way it worked since Pa fell off the bus, and that's the levy Shuttleworth attempted to overturn.

  9. LDS Silver badge
    Joke

    Why he needed a flat in NY, if resident in the Isle of Man..

    .... or only his money was looking for a comfortable, safe home in a known tax haven?

  10. Detective Emil
    Black Helicopters

    Capital flight

    Well, assuming that the money was held in local currency, he's still doing better than if he'd left it in South Africa: the Rand was trading at around eight to the US dollar in 2008; now it's at twelve or so.

  11. James Cane
    Alert

    Holy Sh1t!

    The Superior Ink building's website is listing just one apartment for sale at the moment.

    1 bedroom, 855 square feet, $3.15 MILLION.

  12. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/southafrica/11684492/South-Africas-long-walk-to-decline.html

    Some more background on my country...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yup, one of my siblings lives in SA and I go over there often. Everyone I meet there either knows someone who has been robbed at gunpoint or has been robbed at gunpoint.

      http://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/may/06/benni-mccarthy-robbed-gunpoint-south-africa

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/oct/26/south-africa-goalkeeper-senzo-meyiwa-dead

      1. Richard 120

        robbed at gunpoint

        I'm guessing that the one's who know someone who has been robbed at gunpoint are the ones holding the guns....

  13. BobRocket

    Wrong Bank

    If he wanted to move large sums of money quickly and quietly without Government interference he should have used HSBC or S&C or Lloyds or Barclays or RBS etc. (other banks are available)

    1. anothercynic Silver badge

      Re: Wrong Bank

      Ummmmm, no. Even they are subject to Reserve Bank rules and regs.

  14. Christoph Silver badge

    Lesson learned

    Obvious lesson from this: Do not invest any money in South Africa.

  15. Unicornpiss Silver badge
    Meh

    I guess I'd be pretty mad...

    ...If I was swindled out of 20M. Of course I don't have 20M, and to him it is probably the same financial hit as if one of us didn't get our order at the drive through. I'll bet his lawyers are pleased at the extra work and windfall for them though.

    Like someone else mentioned, he probably has a lot of accountants on his staff--no one warned him about this? It's also kind of funny when someone complains that something is unconstitutional in a country that they're leaving and not intending to dwell in again...

    The very rich are not like you or I. I do have respect for Mr. Shuttleworth overall though.

  16. Fink-Nottle

    In 2008, he tried to withdraw R2.5bn (US$204m, £128m) from his account in the South African Reserve Bank. The bank, under orders from the SA finance minister, withheld 10 per cent of the transfer as an exit charge.

    A bit of jouralistic hyperbola there ...

    The South African Reserve Bank, like the Bank of England, is the nation's central bank. As such, is not a commercial bank and there is thus no way Shuttleworth could have held an account there.

    As the state institution that manages a country's currency, money supply, and interest rates it is, naturally, 'under orders from the SA finance minister' and it does as a matter of course, withhold '10 per cent of the transfer as an exit charge' for all capital leaving the country. However this is not a punitive measure directed against Shuttleworth, but a sovereign nation's financial policy.

    1. bpfh Bronze badge
      Boffin

      I don't know about that...

      In France, the Banque de France used to allow inidviduals to hold an account with them. Even the Public Treasury (Ministry of Economy and Finance) allowed French nationals to hold checquing accounts with them until the mid 00's... Possibly the same in SA.

    2. anothercynic Silver badge

      Incorrect.

      Considering that Shuttleworth sold Thawte for hundreds of millions of dollars (and hence billions of Rand), the RBSA held the money on his behalf. Don't for one second believe that he kept it in his Joe-Average cheque account at ABSA, First National, Standard or NedBank... Considering that his billions would not have had any standard deposit insurance at *any* consumer bank in South Africa, RBSA was the only place to put it.

      1. Fink-Nottle

        > Considering that Shuttleworth sold Thawte for hundreds of millions of dollars (and hence billions of Rand), the RBSA held the money on his behalf.

        That's daft. VeriSign acquired the company for $575 million in stock. It is therefore naive to imagine that the Reserve Bank held a wad of 'money' on Shuttleworth's behalf at any point.

        Although the foreign exchange was probably in the form of securities rather currency, the cross-border transfer out of SA would have to be carried out an 'authorized dealer' - one of the commercial banks. It turns out that Shuttleworth instructed Standard Bank to act on his behalf - and to do so he'd need t5o open a non-resident transmission account like any other Joe ...

    3. the spectacularly refined chap

      The South African Reserve Bank, like the Bank of England, is the nation's central bank. As such, is not a commercial bank and there is thus no way Shuttleworth could have held an account there.

      But you can have an account with the Bank of England. Do not forget that until the postwar period it was a privately held bank and you could open an account with them as for anywhere else. Following nationalisation it became much more difficult to open an account but pre-existing accounts were left in operation. So you'd have to be quite elderly now to still have a personal account it is perfectly possible, and more common for companies. Younger entities may also have accounts opened on government direction, as happened for Huntingdon Life Sciences for example when RBS closed their account.

      1. Fink-Nottle

        > But you can have an account with the Bank of England.

        Interesting. Clearly there are differences between the two institutions - I know the Reserve Bank was never nationalised and still has shareholders - however it is the consensus of my SA friends and I that the Reserve Bank was never a deposit taking organisation.

  17. adamoxford

    That to be fair to Mark, he had pledged the money to a charitable foundation for assisting with legal fees for South Africans who want to press other constitutional issues. He'd said all along he didn't want the money but was fighting for the principle, and actually came good on that promise when he thought he'd won back in October. Link with background here: http://www.htxt.co.za/2014/10/01/mark-shuttleworth-donates-entire-r250m-reserve-bank-win-to-defend-sa-constitution/

    1. Fink-Nottle

      Yes, but ...

      if he felt so strongly about constitutional issues in SA, why wait until leaving the country to pledge money to the cause?

      As the article you quote points out, At the appeal’s court judgement, the following point was made: “it appears to us that Shuttleworth’s primary purpose was not purely altruistic but to secure repayment of the ten per cent levy paid by him.” So the judge had it wrong, then.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "That to be fair to Mark, he had pledged the money to a charitable foundation for assisting with legal fees for South Africans who want to press other constitutional issues."

      Wonder if that's the real cause for him losing here...? eg the SA government doesn't want people encouraged to press constitutional issues

      1. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

        Problem is our judges and courts are not impartial anymore.

        So therefore we will find another way.

        V for Vendetta.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          > Problem is our judges and courts are not impartial anymore.

          The problem is not an independent judiciary, it's a majority party that does not respect either the independence of the judiciary or the law itself.

  18. Slacker@work
    Coat

    So unfair!

    The poor bugger - my heart bleeds for him! lets organise a whip round....

    1. sabroni Silver badge

      Re: So unfair!

      Yeah, a whole 10% too! Hopefully a quick swim in his room full of gold coins will ease the pain.....

  19. Col_Panek

    That's Africa

    Everybody's got their hand out for a bribe, from roadblocks where kids get you for a few coins, to cops, to the government stealing $20M.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    More proof...

    ...of governmental corruption. The 10% withholding did not in any way protect the country's currency. This bogus fee is just bad government exploiting the populace. It's no wonder unscrupulous people in SA routinely get whacked.

  21. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Let's not overlook the fact that in all likelihood the money is being moved to hide it from the tax man.

    How many million pounds do you need anyway?

  22. Valerion

    World Cup

    Well, they needed pay the bribes to FIFA somehow!

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    SA's continued slide to complete 3rd world crap hole

    > discouraging the export of capital to protect the domestic economy

    Kind of like those other first world paragons Greece and Venezuela have done or soon will do. Must be rough going from one of the economic success stories in Africa to yet another failed state in the region.

  24. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Sort of subject to rules and regs

    "Ummmmm, no. Even they are subject to Reserve Bank rules and regs."

    Well...... *(waggling my hand)*. At least one of these banks (HSBC) was recently investigated and fined for wide-scale money laundering on the behalf of South American drug cartels. Ultimately, they were subject to he regs, they were fined $1.9 billion. But no jail time for responsible parties, the wealthy are not subject to the same penalties as everyone else. Given the lack of real threats (jail time, or breaking up the offending bank, or firing or barring bad actors from working at banks), the profit maximizing move for these banks is not to follow the regs, it's to ignore the regs and pay the fines. I'm sure another bank would have been quite... accomodating.. of Shutlesworth's requests.

  25. Dylan Fahey

    IF the reason

    "...The dominant purpose of the exit charge was not to raise revenue but rather to regulate conduct by discouraging the export of capital to protect the domestic economy,"

    If the reason they (SA) took that money was to PROTECT the SA economy, then logic says when a big transfer into the country's bank system, the depositor should get 20m also. IN/OUT, balance, you can't argue with that.

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