19/01/2017 16:40 SAST | Updated 20/01/2017 09:50 SAST

Absa Bailout Issue Is Dead Horse, Apartheid-Era Finance Minister

Barend du Plessis was finance minister during the Bankorp saga. He says there's no hope of re-examining the issue.

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Barend du Plessis, former minister of finance.

A former minister of finance, who partly presided over the so-called Bankorp/Absa lifeboat, says it will be impossible to resuscitate claims against Absa for the alleged non-payment of interest to the South African Reserve Bank (SARB).

Barend du Plessis, who was minister of finance in the cabinets of Presidents PW Botha and FW de Klerk, told HuffPostSA: "It is impossible to bring that dead horse back to life."

The Mail & Guardian 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.

Du Plessis was consulted by then governor of the SARB Chris Stals when the deal between Bankorp and the SARB was restructured in 1991, after Bankorp indicated it would be unable to repay back the loan of R300 million granted to it in 1985 and 1986.

Du Plessis said he did not want to comment on the issue further, but did explain that the SARB was the only institution with the necessary locus standi to decide on financial assistance to banks in distress, and that he was merely kept informed of matters as political head of the SARB.

Sanlam, the financial services giant who was the majority shareholder in Bankorp, has said it won't comment on the provisional report by the public protector. Sanlam received 88% of the purchase amount when Absa bought Bankorp in 1992 and has been named as a possible beneficiary from the lifeboat.

Anton Gildenhuys, chief actuary and group risk officer, said in written comments: "Sanlam is aware of media reports about a leaked preliminary public protector report on the alleged bailouts to certain companies pre-1994. Given that the matter is being handled by the public protector's office, we do not believe it is appropriate for us to comment on the issue at this stage. We will cooperate fully with the public protector to the extent that will be required."

Mkhwebane does not name Sanlam as a beneficiary in her report, keeping only Absa liable.

Her stance is contrary to the conclusions reached by the panel of experts lead by Judge Dennis Davis, who in 2002 found Absa did not accrue any benefit from the loan. The panel did however find that given the assistance given to Bankorp and its eventual acquisition by Absa, it could be argued that Sanlam and its policyholders received a benefit of R1,9 million, because of the premium paid by Absa.