Public Protector ‘met spies twice on Bank’, Absa affidavit reveals
Absa CEO Maria Ramos reveals meetings in a supplementary affidavit in Absa’s bid to set aside some of Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s contentious remedial actions
Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane met the State Security Agency (SSA) not once, but twice, and discussed the independence of the Reserve Bank before drafting her final report in the Ciex/Bankorp saga, despite her denials.
Absa CEO Maria Ramos says this in the supplementary affidavit in Absa’s bid to set aside some of the remedial actions in the report, filed in court on Thursday.
Mkhwebane has directed the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to reopen an investigation into Absa and recover an illegal R1.1bn apartheid-era lifeboat granted to Bankorp, which Absa acquired in 1992.
Ramos’s affidavit includes a previously undisclosed note of a June 6 2017 meeting between Mkhwebane and the SSA, along with an unidentified economist, in which the independence of the Bank was discussed. The operations of the Bank had to be "aligned with social responsibility", the new notes show. These notes follow ones disclosed on Monday by the Bank’s general counsel, Johannes de Jager, which showed Mkhwebane had met with the SSA in May.
The public protector had denied meeting the SSA to discuss amending the Bank’s mandate, saying she had met with the agency to enquire about the Ciex contract and its management. The SSA hired Ciex and paid it about £600,000 to recover funds misappropriated during apartheid.
The notes also show the two institutions discussed options to recover the lifeline from Absa.
"It is wholly unclear why the public protector was holding a meeting with the State Security Agency and an economist — who I call upon the public protector to identify — less than two weeks before she issued the final report, and apparently discussing the remedial action which she would impose against Absa," Ramos said.
"I am in particular deeply disturbed as to why the SSA should have any views at all on the remedial action being considered by the public protector against Absa."
Like De Jager, Ramos took issue with Mkhwebane’s meeting at the Presidency a day after she met the SSA for the second time.
"It is evident from the public protector’s note of the meeting that she discussed the idea of ordering the SIU to reinvestigate the ‘lifeboat’ with the Presidency’s legal advisers," Ramos said. "However, the public protector never alerted Absa to the prospect that she would incorporate the SIU in her remedial action. This was another material omission that violates Absa’s right to procedural fairness."
Cleopatra Mosana, Mkhwebane’s spokeswoman, said this meeting took place because the Presidency was implicated in the investigation. "The Presidency was an implicated party, as it, through the SSA, commissioned Ciex to investigate apartheid corruption including the irregular lifeboat given to Bankorp/ Absa by the South African Reserve Bank," Mosana said.