South Africa 14.1.2017 05:15 am

Is Busi’s Absa probe payback for the Guptas?

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane. Picture: Jacques Nelles

Political analysts say there appear to be strong political undertones in the whole matter.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s investigation into Absa’s apartheid era bailout by the Reserve Bank is nothing but an attempt to find fault in the bank and to divert attention from state capture involving the Gupta family, a political expert says.

ALSO READ: Absa says it will cooperate with PP’s probe into apartheid-era bailout

Leading political analyst professor Andre Duvenhage said there appeared to be no sufficient evidence against Absa.

“The case is very premature at the moment. I am not sure if they even have a strong case. It looks like a question of ‘we were targeted, let’s also target someone’,” Duvenhage said, alluding to the state capture issue.

Another analyst, Steven Friedman, concurred that the move had more to do with state capture involving the Guptas and the control of National Treasury and state political battles.

The commentators were reacting to a complaint by Absa after the leaking of the contents of the public protector’s preliminary report, which recommended that Absa should pay back R2.25 billion given to Bankorp from 1985 as a bailout from the SA Reserve Bank before the bank was acquired by Absa in April 1992. Absa yesterday issued a statement complaining about the leaking of Mkhwebane’s report.

“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,” the bank said.

The bank said it had invited Mkhwebane to inspect confidential documents in its possession pertinent to the successful finalisation of the investigation.

The public protector’s spokesperson, Oupa Segalwe, promised to issue a statement later yesterday to respond to Absa, but that had not been done at the time of going to print.

The fact that the probe was initiated for a matter that occurred during the period 1985-1995 has raised suspicions about the motive for the investigation. Some observers said it was aimed at creating a smokescreen to divert attention from reported state capture involving the Guptas, who are President Jacob Zuma’s friends.

ALSO READ: Absa may have to pay back billions from apartheid-era bailout – report

Duvenhage said the affair smacked of a countermove against those allegations to make it look as if the Guptas were not alone or the first to do this, but that white business had also benefited from the state.

“But clearly they need to make more effort, better effort and come up with tangible evidence to link Absa with any wrongdoing.

“As it is at the moment, it is all filled with emotions and a lot of hot air,” Duvenhage said. Friedman said there were strong political undertones in the whole matter.

“It started as a legitimate investigation into state capture or what business had been doing in the past to benefit from the state. But it is clear that this is going to be used to fight the political battles of the state. They want to say, you have been saying this about the Guptas, now what about these people?”

However, Friedman said there was nothing wrong in probing the activities of banks.

“If a company were given preferential treatment, it does not matter whether that happened in 1985, everything had to be done above board and due diligence observed where necessary,” Friedman said.

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