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South African court favors Barclays Africa in case over apartheid-era bailouts

The Gauteng Division of South Africa's High Court has set aside the findings of a public antigraft watchdog that Barclays Africa Group Ltd. unduly benefited from a series of bailouts received by Bankorp during the apartheid era and must repay roughly 1.13 billion South African rand.

Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane said in a June 2017 report said the South African government had "improperly failed" to act on a report by U.K.-based asset recovery agency CIEX Ltd., which was contracted by the country to assist in investigating and recovering public funds and assets misappropriated during the apartheid period; failed to recover 3.2 billion rand from Bankorp Ltd., which was acquired by Barclays Africa retail banking unit Absa Bank Ltd. in 1992; and provided Bankorp through the South African Reserve Bank a series of bailouts between 1985 and 1995 to offset bad loans that threatened the bank's survival.

In a Feb. 16, 2018, decision, the court said the findings "were the product of a procedurally unfair process and are unlawful." The court also awarded punitive costs to the public protector.

Absa said the same day that the court's decision confirmed its position that it does not owe money to the government because it paid fair value for Bankorp.

Barclays Africa had argued that real beneficiaries from the bailouts were Bankorp investors, majority of whom were policyholders of insurer Sanlam Ltd., Reuters reported Feb. 16.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mkhwebane said she was "shocked" with the court ruling and will decide on appropriate action in due course, Eyewitness News reported.

As of Feb. 15, US$1 was equivalent to 11.65 South African rand.