Johannesburg - As in South Africa, the Guptas seem well connected to politicians in India, with some of their connections also no strangers to controversy.
The Indian High Commission in South Africa is being coy about who the Indian politicians are who flew into Waterkloof Air Force Base near Pretoria on Tuesday on a chartered aircraft with about 300 wedding guests on board.
The guests were bound for the lavish Sun City nuptials of Vega Gupta – the daughter of Achla Gupta and sister of the ANC-affiliated Gupta brothers – to Aakash Jahajgarhia.
The Indian deputy high commissioner, Armstrong Changsan, would only say he believed three government ministers were among the guests, possibly from a provincial government rather than the national government.
The Times of India reported on Tuesday that the government ministers aboard the aircraft were from the government of the state of Uttar Pradesh and included urban development minister Azam Khan, parliamentary speaker Mata Prasad Pandey and public works minister Shivpal Singh Yadav.
It said President Ram Baran Yadav of Nepal had also been invited. None of these names could be confirmed.
The paper also reported that Khan had been involved in a controversy, claiming he had been temporarily detained and frisked by US immigration and customs officials at Boston airport. He arrived in the city last week to give a lecture at a conference.
Although Indian officials complained that he had been profiled because of his Muslim name – by US officials still nervous over the Boston Marathon bombings by Chechen Muslims – Khan blamed his political enemies in Uttar Pradesh for setting up the incident to embarrass him.
The Waterkloof base is a designated national key point, meaning it’s a restricted military area because of security.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe last night condemned the use of the airbase by private individuals and demanded to know who had given permission for the plane to land.
“Those who cannot account must be brought to book. The ANC will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, its citizens and its borders,” he said.
“We again make the call, even at this late hour, to the SANDF to explain how this private aircraft landed at Waterkloof Air Force Base, our national key point.”
The chartered aircraft, an Airbus A330-200 run by Jet Airways, touched down at Waterkloof yesterday.
Once on the ground, passengers transferred to luxury vehicles and left for Sun City escorted by the SAPs’s VIP protection unit.
Gupta wedding spokesman Haranath Ghosh said: “Waterkloof Air Force Base was used with full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries, including some ministers.”
India’s deputy high commissioner to South Africa, Armstrong Changsan, said the high commission had asked for and received permission from the South African authorities to land the chartered aircraft because some Indian government officials were on board.
However, SANDF spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said: “As far as I know, no permission was granted to a private citizen to use the base.
“It is a military base and a national key point used by the government and its guests.
“Let them (Guptas) tell you who they got the permission from and (ask) that they show it to you,” he said.
“If the Gupta family say the (Indian high) commission got the permission, then the commission should be asked who they got it from, if they have such permission.”
Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a defence and military analyst, said it was a rare occurrence for ordinary citizens to land at the Waterkloof base.
“I can’t think of any other incident, either than heads of state from other countries, where ordinary civilians – no matter how rich they are – landed at the base.”
He added the Guptas would need permission from the air force, and there would be costs involved for the landing and parking of the plane.
Mantashe, in his statement last night, noted that the Waterkloof base was “one of our country’s national key points”.
“A national key point is declared on the basis of being so important that its loss, damage, disruption or immobilisation may prejudice the Republic,” he said.
He noted the ANC “waited patiently” for the SANDF, the body delegated with authority over the Waterkloof Air Force Base, “to explain to the nation how those private individuals managed to land aircraft at Waterkloof.
“Up until now, no explanation has been forthcoming. The ANC, driven by the concern for the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity.”
The ANC would never rest when there was any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, its citizens and its borders, Mantashe stated. - The Star, Sapa
“Those who cannot account must be brought to book. The African National Congress will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, it's citizens and its borders.”
“We again make the call, even at this late hour, to the SANDF to explain how this private aircraft landed at Waterkloof Airforce Base,” said Mthembu
Mthembu said the base was the country's national key point.
He said the ANC had “waited patiently” for the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) to explain to the nation how “these private individuals” managed to land aircraft at Waterkloof.
Some of the controversies involving the Guptas:
Johannesburg City Parks spokeswoman Jenny Moodley said the Guptas – who own a big stake in computer company Sahara, and publish The New Age newspaper, were in 2007 denied permission by City Parks to use the Saxonwold parkland for helicopters.
Yet, in 2010 and in October of the previous year, helicopters with the Sahara logo landed there without permission.
It was found that three of the country’s biggest state-owned companies were paying millions of rand to bankroll business breakfasts hosted by President Jacob Zuma’s close friends, the Gupta family.
The Guptas, under the aegis of The New Age, have hosted speakers such as Zuma, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba at breakfasts which were televised live by the SABC. The public broadcaster doesn’t charge the newspaper a cent for the broadcasts.
Transnet forked out R17.5 million for 18 breakfast sessions, while Eskom paid R7.2m to sponsor six sessions between November 2011 and last year. It was previously reported that Telkom sponsored 12 business breakfasts to the tune of R12m in the 2012/13 financial year. - The Star