South Africa’s justice minister on Sunday accused an Indian High Commission official and some South Africans of colluding to obtain permission for the Gupta family’s wedding guests to land at Air Force Base Waterkloof last month.
The Guptagate affair has transfixed the nation since the private flight landed at Pretoria’s Waterkloof Air Force base last month with nearly 200 guests for the lavish Gupta family wedding.
It has also shone an uncomfortable spotlight on President Jacob Zuma’s relationship with Gupta brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh, whose South African business empire stretches from mining and resources to aviation and technology.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said the Gupta family had resorted to using diplomatic channels after their initial requests for a special reception at Johannesburg’s main airport had been repeatedly denied.
“An individual in the High Commission communicated directly with individuals at the air force command post. The collusion of officials resulted in the irregular approval of the flight clearance,” he told a news conference attended by a number of government ministers, summarizing the findings of an investigation into the matter.
“The landing of the chartered commercial aircraft, [Jet Airways] flight JAI 9900, was a direct result of manipulation of processes.”
One of the people implicated in the scandal is Bruce Koloane, chief of state protocol. “We’ve got a statement from (Koloane) on record explaining himself on all these issues. That is why we are saying, without any fear of contradiction, that no minister was involved in this matter. The president was not involved,” Radebe said.
He added that several criminal cases have already been opened, and he expected others to follow as the investigation unfolds.
He said the preliminary findings already showed the name of the president and two other government ministers had been used to exert influence on civil servants.
Some of those whose had been influenced included Koloane (subsequently placed on special leave) and Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, the officer commanding aircraft movement at Waterkloof.
Radebe said disciplinary processes would continue to determine “the guilt or otherwise of these individuals”. He noted that it is up to the National Prosecuting Authority to determine if the Guptas will face prosecution.
No mention was made of the three others suspended following Guptagate. These are Brigadier General Les Lombard, Officer Commanding the SAAF Command Post, Brigadier General “TS” Madumane, Waterkloof base commander, and SA Police Service Gauteng Operational Response Services’ Major General Gela.
The landing of the jet at AFB Waterkloof has generated controversy as the base is a national key point that is restricted for security reasons.
According to the investigation, the Guptas tried several avenues to get their aircraft special landing rights. In February they approached the Airports Company of South Africa with a request for landing rights at OR Tambo International and “an elaborate reception for the wedding party”, but were turned down.
Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said that Sahara (a company owned by the Gupta family) approached her for assistance in approving a request for airport use that would be sent to the Indian High Commissioner. She rejected this approach.
The Guptas then persuaded someone at the Indian high commission to re-designate the wedding entourage as an official delegation. This allowed them to land at Waterkloof under diplomatic privilege – paperwork from the Department of International Relations and Cooperation showed that the aircraft was supposed to be carrying foreign dignitaries, including state ministers.
So far India has been saying that no protocols had been breached and that the plane was carrying politicians from the Samajwadi Party, a regional ally of the Delhi government led by prominent national politician Mulayam Singh.
South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said relations with India remain “solid and sound”. The findings of the report will be shared with the Indian authorities, she said.
The Guptagate episode has so far failed to suck in Zuma, who missed the wedding due to a state visit to the Republic of Congo, but it is seen as another example of the influence-peddling and cronyism that the president’s critics say has become endemic since he came to power in 2009.
Two of Zuma’s children have served as directors of a number of Gupta companies, according to South Africa’s companies database, and the family is a major financial backer of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
In addition to several suspended base commanders, some policemen had been arrested for moonlighting as private security guards in the luxury car convoy that took the wedding guests from the air base to Sun City.
The police have also opened a criminal case against a Pretoria car hire firm for the illegal use of flashing ‘blue lights’ in the suite of BMWs in the convoy.
Details of the report will be released this week.