Ray Hartley Editor: BusinessLIVE
Absa CEO Maria Ramos. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Absa CEO Maria Ramos. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

NOTE: This article originally appeared under the headline: "New public protector guns for bank that dumped the Guptas". After it was pointed out that this was stretching the point, it was changed to the present headline.

All's fair in love and war, right?

This morning's Mail & Guardian has revealed that the new public protector, Busisiwe Mkhwebane, has prepared her first report and it's a broadside at Absa over an apartheid-era bail-out that she says must be paid back.

According to the M&G, Mkhwebane wants Absa to pay R2.25bn to the fiscus in compensation for the loan which has been found by several investigations to have been irregularly made.

And, says the paper, she wants President Jacob Zuma to institute an inquiry into apartheid-era looting of the state.

It is interesting that this historical issue - which a previous ANC administration decided ought not to be pursued - is Mkhwebane's highest priority.

Why is this happening? Well, if you like your narratives dark and conspiratorial - and most narratives these days are of that ilk - you might wonder aloud about her motives for making this investigation, which was instigated by her predecessor, a priority.

After all, Absa was among the banks that pulled the plug on Gupta-family bank accounts and has been fairly outspoken on this matter.

An affidavit filed in the case in which Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is arguing that he should not get involved in the decisions by banks to cut the Guptas lays it out clearly.

This from a Business Day story: 

The bank said it took the decision to close the accounts in December 2015 after it decided that the costs of monitoring them to ensure compliance with money-laundering legislation outweighed the benefits and fees that could be derived from keeping them.

"The Oakbay companies were not using Absa as a primary or dual bank and were apparently moving their banking business to alternative financial institutions. As a consequence, Absa was limited in its ability to appropriately monitor and understand the customer’s risk profiles.... There was also evidence of large unexplained transfers of funds between the Oakbay companies and related parties and other banks," states the affidavit.

Which is not to say that Absa does not have a case to answer. Brace yourself for a serious raking over of the apartheid-era coals when it comes to big business.

* Absa has responded to the preliminary report, saying:

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 Ltd was the beneficiary of undue SA Reserve Bank assistance.

 The Davis Panel of Experts appointed by former SARB Governor, Mr Tito Mboweni found that that Absa’s shareholders did not derive any undue benefit from the SARB’s intervention and as such no claim of restitution could be pursued against Absa. We emphatically agree with this position.

 

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