Big fat Gupta hangoverComment on this story
Johannesburg - The controversial Gupta wedding party flew out of South Africa on Friday night and despite a high-level damage-control exercise, the South African government will, in the coming week, still face searing questions over a scandal which has enraged the nation.
A slew of accusations, claims and counter-claims has been left in the wake of the huge event, which basically took over the Lost City – and for a short time the Waterkloof Air Force Base – and which will now see local politicians having to work smartly as they try to seek answers, while maintaining sound diplomatic relations with India.
On Friday night the Gupta wedding party’s departure from OR Tambo International Airport was delayed by almost five hours as the Civil Aviation Authority first processed the Airbus 330 to ensure it had its Foreign Operator Permit before the 207 passengers and 12 crew were thoroughly vetted by Immigration and Customs – in stark contrast to to their controversial arrival in South Africa on Tuesday when almost all rules and regulations were flouted. The Airbus 330 finally left at 7.45pm, almost six hours after the party checked in.
That same private plane, it has now emerged, broke at least five regulations and laws when it landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base, then contravened more laws on the ground.
The involvement of Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta in securing the landing rights saw him hauled before government officials yesterday to account for his role in the debacle.
And last night President Jacob Zuma welcomed the investigations under way into the controversial landing arrangement, with his spokesman, Mac Maharaj, saying he was being kept abreast by his ministers on the steps being taken to establish the facts, and to prevent a recurrence of what has quickly become known as the Guptagate scandal. They wanted to see “whoever is found to have breached regulations and procedures brought to book”, Maharaj said.
Earlier, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said investigations could include looking into the role the Gupta family played in the saga.
A committee of directors-general had been given seven working days to complete a probe, and report to the cabinet on how the jet was allowed to land illegally at the air force base in Pretoria.
Virendra Gupta, as well as the Gupta family to whom he is not related, have insisted that all the necessary permissions and permits were in place for the arrival of around 200 guests for the wedding of Gupta niece Vega to Aakash Jahajgarhia.
Briefing the media on Friday, Radebe and other ministers from the Justice, Crime Prevention, Safety and Security cluster were at pains to point out that neither they nor Zuma, who has a well-documented relationship with the Gupta family, were aware of the plans.
Outlining the findings of a preliminary investigation, Radebe said the jet landed without executive authority, and had not followed correct procedures. Protocol around who was allowed to land at the base, reserved for visiting heads of state and VIPs on official business, had been broken.
Five people on the flight were state ministers, minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said.
However, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane indicated they were here on private and not official business.
Other findings were that the plane entered South African airspace without the knowledge of the Civil Aviation Authority, was operated without a Foreign Operator Permit, and those on board were not subjected to a customs search.
In addition, the ministers said, those involved in escorting “the Indian delegation” after arrival broke several laws.
Two Metro police officers and a SAPS reservist have been arrested for contravening the Firearms Act, and for acting as private security guards without the necessary accreditation.
While the government pledged a full-scale investigation would “leave no stone unturned”, ministers tip-toed around questions of whether the Guptas had been questioned, and faced any charges as a result of the fiasco. The ministers replied only that “everybody connected will be investigated”, including those outside government.
They also indicated it was “not normal” that embassy officials were “eliciting permits” using diplomatic channels.
Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi called for the real culprits behind the Waterkloof debacle to be exposed.
“We must demand the fullest possible investigation into the whole incident…,” Vavi said.