Five senior government officials suspended in first “Guptagate” fall-out


Government’s bureaucratic machine has moved into top gear for both damage limitation and the hunt for culprits after the unauthorised arrival of a chartered jetliner at AFB Waterkloof earlier this week.

Justice and Constitutional Development Minister Jeff Radebe confirmed to a media briefing in Pretoria today that no executive authority had been granted for the Jet Airways Airbus A330 (carrying members of the Gupta wedding party from India) to land at the Centurion air force base.

The first to feel the heat from what has been widely termed “Guptagate” was Department of International Relations and Co-operation Chief of State Protocol, Ambassador Bruce Koloane. He was suspended on Thursday following initial investigations by Minister Maite Nkoane-Mashabane’s department.

Three SA Air Force officers have also been suspended with immediate effect for their apparent role in allowing the jet to land at a national key point. They are Brigadier General Les Lombard, Officer Commanding the SAAF Command Post, Brigadier General “TS” Madumane, Waterkloof base commander and Waterkloof movement control officer Lieutenant Colonel C Anderson.

SA Police Service Gauteng Operational Response Services’ Major General Gela has also been suspended in the immediate wake of the fall-out surrounding the incident.

There has been widespread condemnation of the arrival of at least two hundred passengers on the aircraft to attend a Gupta family wedding in Sun City since touchdown on Tuesday.

Explaining the unauthorised arrival, Radebe said that, “Government has no record of a note verbale from the Indian High Commission notifying Dirco of a visiting delegation requiring diplomatic assistance and aircraft clearance and landing rights.
“The defence attaché of the Indian High Commission sent a request for aircraft clearance directly to the Air Force Command Unit within the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) on April 4, 2013. The Air Force consulted with the Office of State Protocol at Dirco and facilitated clearance of the aircraft without informing the Chief of the SANDF.”

He said the officials from Dirco, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and South African Police Service (SAPS) involved in co-ordinating the landing of the aircraft have been put on compulsory/special leave following an investigation by government into what he described as “a security breach”.
“Government is gravely concerned at this violation of security protocol and total disregard of established practice for clearing the landing of aircraft in a military facility that is of strategic importance to the country.
“Our particular concern is the aircraft was carrying international passengers who do not fit the category of government officials or VIPs on official duty,” he said.

Radebe said government had appointed a team of directors-general to investigate all circumstances surrounding the incident. The team was expected to report back within seven working days, but the minister indicated he was presenting preliminary findings from several government departments.

Radebe confirmed the Department of Home Affairs’ immigration officers processed all passengers who landed at AFB Waterkloof in full compliance with immigration laws. “Upon departure we shall ensure the passengers comply with customs and immigration requirements,” he said.
“South African Revenue Service (SARS) customs officials went to process these visitors at Sun City on Thursday and provided the required customs declaration forms. This is to ensure compliance with custom regulations.
“The South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) will impose a penalty on the operator of the A330 for violation of the Civil Aviation Regulations. The Airbus A330 belonging to Jet Airways, which was carrying passengers from India to South Africa and is now repositioned at OR Tambo, has been found to be without a Foreign Operator Permit (FOP),” he said.

The minister said the aircraft has been removed from Waterkloof as ordered by the government.
“The implications of the decision by the government are that the aircraft is now in civilian airspace and will be subject to the provisions of Civil Aviation Authority legislation and the International Air Services Act,” he said.

Radebe said the JCPS (Justice, Crime Prevention and Security) Ministers had directed that plans be put in place to ensure all exit procedures are adhered to. To this end, a team has been set up to co-ordinate departure of these guests through OR Tambo International Airport.

Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa instructed National Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, to investigate whether any transgressions occurred through providing unauthorised support to these visitors on the road from Waterkloof to Sun City, where the Gupta wedding was held.

He said the Police Minister had provided the following preliminary findings:
• The Indian delegation convoy, which comprised black BMWs fitted with emergency lights, were not SAPS vehicles.
• These vehicles were identified as hired from S&M Transportation in Pretoria. A criminal case has been registered against the owner for illegally using the emergency lights and fitting false registration plates. The investigation is continuing.
• It has also been established that some members of the contracted security company are members of both the SAPS and Tshwane Metro Police.
• Two metro police officers and one police reservist were arrested yesterday.
• The involvement of marked SAPS vehicles is still under investigation.
“The government would like to assure the South African public that no stone will be left unturned to ensure we get to the bottom of this matter and hold all those responsible for bringing our country into disrepute whoever they are and whatever position they hold. We want to assure the South African public we will do all in our power to strengthen security protocols and to ensure adherence to them,” the Justice Minister said.