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North West - From dried fruit to chocolates from as far afield as North America, Asia and Australia.
These were the goodies – packed in exotic containers – which accompanied standard invitation cards sent to the Cabinet ministers and other high-profile guests for the recent wedding of the Gupta family at Sun City.
So exotic were the six containers that the North West police commissioner Merriam Mbombo summoned the bomb squad to detonate the “suspicious” box, according to North West DA leader Chris Hattingh.
On Tuesday night, North West police spokesman Brigadier Thulani Ngubane confirmed that a local bomb squad had detonated Mbombo’s invitation.
“We got the invite, but Mrs Mbombo was not expecting an invitation. When it arrived and when we looked at it, it looked like it had (suspicious) wires and we had to do our normal security checks,” said Ngubane.
He said two sniffer dogs were also called in and one of the dogs reacted “positively” and the other “negatively”.
“So we had no choice but not to take a risk and bring in the bomb squad,” he said.
The Mercury on Tuesday had a glimpse of one of the standard invitation cards sent to high-profile politicians and officials, including President Jacob Zuma who chose not attend the wedding.
It was no ordinary invitation card. It was accompanied by six cylinders packed with the following items, among others:
* Lindt truffles from Europe
* Dried cranberries from North America
* Dried kiwi fruit from Australia
* Dried mango from Africa
* Golden berry from South America
* Dried persimmons from Asia
Several Cabinet members and ANC leaders including Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Mining Minister Susan Shabangu, Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor and Free State Premier Ace Magashule attended the wedding.
Those who were invited but did not attend included Zuma, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and Minister of Performance and Evaluation Collins Chabane.
While Gupta family spokesperson Haranath Ghosh refused to disclose the value of the gifts on Tuesday, those who saw them said they could be valued at no less than R1 000.
According to Section 4 of the Executive Ethics Code, which deals with gifts, “a member may request permission from the president or premier to retain or accept the gift”.
This means Cabinet ministers who attended the wedding could find themselves in hot water if they fail to declare the goods to Parliament’s joint committee on ethics and members’ interests.
The committee’s co-chairman and ANC MP, Ben Turok, said: “If they don’t declare it we’ll summon them to a hearing. They have to declare anything over R1 500. And indeed if they slept over (at Sun City) they have to declare all of that. The value of accommodation, the value of travel, the value of the gift, they have to declare all that.”
DA MP David Maynier said taxpayers may have indirectly sponsored the multimillion-rand wedding because the Guptas’ companies, including The New Age newspaper owned by the family, did business with the government.
He said the invitation card seemed to be “part invitation and part gift and will therefore have to be declared by all the ministers who received an invitation”.
“This year’s register of members’ interests is going to make compelling reading. We will finally find out which ministers were invited – and more important – which ministers were not invited to the wedding,” said Maynier.
Ghosh dismissed media enquiries regarding the invitation cards and other aspects of the wedding as “fishing expeditions”.
He added that the family would not comment on the plane-landing scandal or any aspect of the wedding until investigations launched by the government and other agencies had been completed.
“The experience thus far showed that any and all bona fide attempts by the family to respond to these allegations were merely brushed off where papers published these far-fetched allegations as fact,” said Ghosh.
The Guptas would co-operative with all investigators, he added.
The family caused a stir when their civilian aircraft landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, a national key point.
Zuma and six ministers have denied any involvement in the scandal.
A senior government official has been suspended alongside nine police officers.