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Wednesday 8 July 2020

‘Gupta wedding party breached South African security’

Gupta family didn't have a Note Verbale, letter requesting South African foreign ministry to allow a delegation to land for official visits

Johannesburg: South Africa’s national security was breached when a Jet Airways flight landed at an air force base in April 2013 with 200 guests for a lavish wedding of the Gupta family, one of the country’s top generals has told a commission of inquiry.

Judge Ray Zondo-led commission is investigating a number of deals involving government officials, the influential Gupta family and state-owned companies during the presidency of former South African President Jacob Zuma.

Lieutenant General Derrick Mbuyiselo Mgwebi, who earlier chaired a board of enquiry into the controversial incident, told the Commission that his probe had found that there was a gross misrepresentation of the facts relating to the landing of the Jat Airways aircraft at the Waterkloof air force base on 30 April.

He said they had been led to believe that ministers of state from India would be landing at the military base.

The request stated that it was just ‘ministers from one of the states’ and ‘ministers from the central level’, Lt Gen Mgwebi said, adding there was ‘no names, no leader of the delegation’.

“But there were no ministers on the flight,” he said.

Lt Gen Mgwebi said there were several incidents which breached national security, citing the fact that guests for the wedding, who were all civilians, were taking pictures of the military base while they waited for transport, also by civilians who came onto the base and were driven through the base.

“There were also other (private) aircraft allowed onto the base,” he added.

The three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, originally from Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh in India, have been accused of a wide range of involvement in attempts to influence government appointments, including ministers, and improper deals with various government departments involving billions of rands.

The Gupta brothers settled in South Africa more than 20 years ago but have since relocated to Dubai.

Lt Gen Mgwebi detailed the role of a number of officials in various government departments who suggested by name-dropping that former President Zuma, who has been accused of having been close to the Gupta family, had given approval for the landings.

Among them was Bruce Koloane, who was the former head of state protocol during the landing. Koloane was the only person to be charged at the time.

He pleaded guilty to a contravention of the military code and was later appointed as South African Ambassador to the Netherlands.

Earlier, another member of the board, former Director-General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development Nonkululeko Sindane, told the Commission that the Guptas did not have a Note Verbale, the letter requesting the South African foreign ministry to allow a delegation to land in the country for official visits.

“We did find that some of the actions of the Indian High Commission were consistent with the woolliness of how this trip was defined,” Sindane said.

Last month they were in the news for another multi-million-dollar wedding of two family members, this time for a hefty fine that they got following the wedding at the Auli ski resort in the Himalayas, where 22 tons of garbage was reportedly left behind.

Zuma, 77, was forced to resign in February last year under a cloud of corruption scandals following huge public outcries. He was replaced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was re-elected as President in May this year.

Zuma has also been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to an arms deal from before he became president.

Zuma is currently negotiating appearance before the Zondo Commission, where his name has come up frequently in testimony by witnesses for the past few months.

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