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Johannesburg - An article published in the Mail & Guardian saying businessman Rajesh Gupta tried to bribe an SA Airways official has led to a R500 million lawsuit in the High Court in Pretoria.
According to court papers filed by the Gupta family, the contents of the article were defamatory towards Rajesh Gupta and the family in general.
The complaint, which was lodged in the high court on August 15, related to an article published in the newspaper in March this year headlined “R10bn contract behind the dogfight at national carrier”.
The newspaper reported that questions had been raised about how a meeting held at the Gupta family compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, involving SAA acting chief executive at the time Vuyisile Kona, as well as Siyabonga Mahlangu, special adviser to Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, fed into the battle to control the airline's board and executive.
Mahlangu had reportedly invited Kona to the meeting.
The M&G reported that the Sunday Times had revealed detailed allegations about the meeting held on October 29 last year.
Also reportedly present at the meeting were Rajesh Gupta, President Jacob Zuma's son Duduzane, and Free State premier Ace Magashule's son Tshepiso.
According to the Sunday Times, Rajesh made an offer to make R100,000 available to Kona and then upped it to R500,000. The report did not specify what the money was for, but said Kona had refused.
Gupta family spokesman Gary Naidoo told the M&G at the time that the Sunday Times had been issued with a demand for a retraction and apology.
In the court papers the Guptas said the article was “wrongful and defamatory” and was intended and understood by the reader to mean that Rajesh Gupta and the family were “dishonest, corrupt and deceitful”.
“As a result of the aforesaid defamation the plaintiff and the Guptas have been prejudiced in that their good name and reputation suffered damages in an amount of R500 million,” the court papers read.
“The plaintiff afforded the defendants various opportunities to retract the aforesaid article and to publish an apology with the same exposure and publicity as the article appended hereto.”
The M&G's editor-in-chief Chris Roper on Thursday said the R500m lawsuit amount was “ludicrous”.
“Half a billion rand is a ludicrous amount and it seems like an amount which is more about intimidation than justice,” Roper told Sapa.
“We are very confident that we can win the case.”
According to the newspaper the Guptas were suing the Sunday Times for the same amount.