Government decided to cancel the contract with Michael Oatley, the British spook who promised to recover looted apartheid billions, because "he was playing games".
This is according to former president Thabo Mbeki, who told public protector advocate Thuli Madonsela in an interview obtained by the Mail & Guardian, which the paper describes as "telling and confrontational".
The M&G reported on a leaked preliminary report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane that recommends Absa pay back R2,25 billion it received as part of an unlawful apartheid-era bailout. The SARB, presidency and treasury were fingered in the report.
Mbeki told Madonsela in the meeting, conducted in May last year and which lasted and hour and 47 minutes, the Absa/Bankorp lifeboat was not an issue that had to be decided upon by Cabinet, but by the South African Reserve Bank (SARB), an autonomous institution.
A frustrated Mbeki, according to the M&G, berated Madonsela for coming to him with "preconceived ideas" and told her she should speak to Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni, respectively the minister of finance and governor of the SARB at the time.
He rejected Madonsela's assertions that government had to act on Oatley and Ciex's recommendations. "At some point a decision was taken that this man was playing games with us. And we decided let's just terminate this thing because it wasn't going to go anywhere," Mbeki said.
Judges Willem Heath and Dennis Davis, both whom led investigations into the lifeboat and found it to be illegal and irregular, told the M&G the public protector "misinterpreted" them.
Heath added he however agrees with the protector that money should be recovered from Absa. Davis said the Ciex Report, which details alleged looted billions, would not have changed his mind even if had sight of it during his team's investigation.