CAPE TOWN - The Gupta family is buckling up with lawyers as they brace themselves for a much-anticipated appearance before a parliamentary inquiry in March.
A leading media source has confirmed that the family has briefed the Houghton, Johannesburg law firm, Gani Mayet attorneys to prepare their defence.
According to notes from the briefings, the family will likely adopt a standing of denial in relation to a number of allegations of state capture which they face.
The notes suggest that the Guptas will deny the following:
-that they have been enriched
-that they have a close relationship with former Eskom CEO, Brian Molefe
-and finally deny the truth of the #Guptaleaks emails
The family is currently at the centre of a state capture, involving state-owned companies companies with the likes of Eskom, Transnet, Denel and Prasa.
According to notes seen by a leading media house, there had been early briefings between the attorneys and the eldest brother, Ajay Gupta, who is famed for being the brains behind the state capture allegations.
All these SOE’s will be placed under harsh scrutiny by Parliament’s portfolio committee on public enterprises.
I have nothing
Meanwhile, Ajay has claimed to his lawyers to be in possession of virtually no assets.
I don't have any share, any board (position), any property, any fixed property, whatever you call that. Maybe one car or something, I only have that one room my father used to sleep (in).
"No, on record I can say that I am not a shareholder of any company, I don't have any assets in any part of the world, except the room my father used to sleep [in], personally that's all [I have].
Only 14 calls to Molefe
In addition, Ajay says that there had only been 14 calls to Molefe, instead of 58 as former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela revealed that she had found, in her "State of Capture" report.
"It was maybe one call a month. Less than a second or five seconds."
He further attempted to distance himself from the former chief executive of the power utility in another note.
"Maybe one time, I bump into him at the airport or something... and I remember just 'hello, hello' nothing [else]. Just one word."
“I can’t even open a WhatsApp message”
The #Guptaleaks emails revealed damning evidence of the family’s empire of state capture, including how they lured politicians into their network with trips to Dubai.
"Whether it's [the emails] doctored or not, I still have no issue. I'm very much sure, 100% sure that we did not do anything wrong..." Ajay Gupta told his lawyers.
"...one more interesting thing, you please note it down. I never did email in my life. I am illiterate. I don't know how to do the SMS, even, forget about, even WhatsApps or anything. My secretary receives the email and she opens it, she prints it and brings it to me if it comes to that," said Ajay Gupta who is regarded as the mastermind of the family empire and is said to be the cleverest brother.
I act in their interests
Meanwhile, Lawyer Ahmed Gani confirmed that he is representing the entire Gupta family.
"Our intention is to represent them in the parliamentary inquiry”.
He asserted his commitment to acting in his clients best interest by acknowledging that every client in controversial.
"To be honest, every client is controversial. I believe in their defence and act in their interests”, said Gani.
Meanwhile, it has been reported in late January that the Guptas were facing imminent arrest.
The Saturday Star has reliably learnt that the brothers are in the sights of an “extremely charged and focused” National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) which is about to pounce.
“The Hawks and the SAPS are focused on giving NPA Court Ready dockets” the highly placed source familiar with the investigations said. “We have been silently working hard.”
When asked if the Guptas were still in the South Africa, the source said: “We don’t foresee any suspect skipping (the) country-at least we are aware of that and made requisite plans to mitigate against it.” There had been speculation that the brothers were out the country, either in Dubai or their home country, India.
The source also hinted that others implicated in the state capture probe could also be arrested in days.
Among those in the cross-hairs of the state capture probe include President Jacob Zuma, his son Duduzane, several ministers and executive officers of a number of parastatals.
“We are investigating 17 individual state capture cases - six are in (an) advanced stage,” the source said.
The source added that the investigation had been initiated in July last year, with investigators “turning witnesses and obtaining preservation orders.”
The news of the possible arrests is the latest in a series of recent moves by the Hawks into investigating state capture allegations as revealed in the public protector’s report, and the so-called Gupta leaks.
In January, the Hawks raided the offices of one of Zuma’s staunchest supporters, Ace Magashule. They raided the Free State premier’s offices as part of their ongoing state capture probe, in particular into the Estina Vrede dairy farm project.
The Hawks were then expected to raid the farm.
Following this, the Free State High Court ordered that the assets of the Guptas and those of high-ranking politicians such as Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane - accrued through a multimillion-rand Estina dairy project in the Free State, be seized.
The scale of the looting using the project, which was supposedly established while Zwane was MEC for agriculture in the province, to benefit emerging black farmers, was revealed in a preservation order granted to the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) by Judge Fouché Jordaan.
The court ordered that an amount not exceeding R220m “which constitutes proceeds of crime” could be seized by the AFU from various bank accounts linked to the dairy project.
The money was paid in seven tranches between April 2013 and May 2016, but soon after it had been deposited into the dairy project’s accounts, the money was transferred to the accounts of several other Gupta-linked companies.
The AFU application details how Atul Gupta personally benefited to the tune of R10m, while further stating “there was no justification for the payment of an amount payment of an amount of R14.5m to Oakbay Investments, as its core business is not agriculture.”
This comes as Zuma's position as the head of state remains precarious, with speculation rife that he might be recalled before the State of the Nation address next month.
Zuma hasn't been seen in public since the ANC elective conference at Nasrec last month, which ushered in a new ANC leadership under Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa was then asked whether, once in power, he would grant Zuma a presidential pardon. “We have the rule of law in our country and people always want to see justice done without fear, without favour,” he told the BBC on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa wooed investors at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last month, promising justice for those guilty of state corruption.
“Everyone agrees that our state was captured by corrupt elements, by people who purported to be close to the president, who have been doing really bad things,” he continued.
Atul Gupta had not responded to an inquiry sent to his cellphone at the time.The Guptas' lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, said he was not aware of any imminent arrests of members of the family.
The Hawks spokesperson Hangwani Mulaudzi said: “I am not aware (of imminent arrests). (There’s) too much speculation running around (sic).”
- BUSINESS REPORT ONLINE