Absa report leak may be politically motivated

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Netwerk24)
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. (Netwerk24)

Johannesburg – The leaked report on Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s investigation into Absa may be perceived as being part of an extended political agenda, according to analysts.

The Mail and Guardian on Friday revealed that the preliminary report by the public protector recommends the bank pay back R2.25bn for an unlawful apartheid era bank bailout.

READ: Absa decries leak of public protector report on apartheid billions

The outstanding R2.25bn pertains to the bank's acquisition of Bankorp in 1992. Bankorp started receiving assistance from the South African Reserve Bank (Sarb) in 1985. In a statement, Absa indicated that all obligations to the Sarb had been discharged in full by October 1995.

The timing of the report's release has brought into question whether Absa is being challenged over closing Gupta-linked accounts.

“There is no doubt that when the ANC struggles in a highly factionalised environment, a report which puts political opponents in a disadvantage will be leaked,” said political analyst, Dr Somadoda Fikeni.

“The leakage itself has political implications,” he told Fin24 by phone.

Professor Daryl Glaser, head of political studies at Wits University, said it is inevitable that people would assume the probe may be politically motivated.

“The signal sent out suggests the public protector wants to turn the attention away from corruption in high places, such as government and towards different objects of public complaint.”

However, instead of investigating "everyday" citizen complaints, these developments suggest there is an extended political agenda to target the enemies of President Jacob Zuma and the Guptas, said Glaser.

Glaser added that it is difficult to draw conclusions this early, and it is important to see how the process is handled going forward. “It will be useful to see how the public protector takes into account the comments submitted by Absa to ensure that the final report is fair,” he said.

“So far the public protector has done nothing to reassure citizens that she is willing to tackle complaints of corruption in high places,” he said.

Mkhwebane is yet to receive submissions from Absa, before the report can be finalised.

“We have written to the public protector informing her that we accept her invitation to make further submissions in terms of the Public Protector Act,” Absa said.

“These submissions will correct several factual and legal inaccuracies that are contained in the provisional report. This will be done on or before the deadline of February 28 2017.”

The bank added that the Davis Panel of experts appointed by former Sarb governor Tito Mboweni in 2000 found Absa shareholders did not derive any undue benefit from the Sarb’s intervention, and as such no claim of restitution could be pursued against Absa.

As such, Absa said it “is regrettable that the public protector’s report has been leaked before further submissions and finalisation, because in its current form it perpetuates an incorrect view that Absa Bank was the beneficiary of undue SA Reserve Bank assistance”.

ALSO READ: Absa weighs in on Gupta bank account closures

Absa was one of the four major banks in South Africa which closed the accounts of Gupta-linked business Oakbay and its subsidiaries, in February 2016.

The bank recently put forward reasons for closing the accounts in an affidavit filed at the North Gauteng High Court. Among these include the classification of Gupta-owned companies as politically exposed people  following a review of the accounts. 

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