Johannesburg - Former Cabinet minister Ben Martins on Tuesday detailed the lengths the controversial Gupta family went to in their bid to land a private Jet Airways plane at OR Tambo International Airport six years ago.
Martins told the commission of inquiry into state capture that a few months into his tenure as transport minister Tony Gupta approached him.
Gupta was demanding that the family be allowed to land an aircraft full of wedding guests and hold a welcoming reception on the tarmac of the continent’s busiest airport.
Former Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) chief executive Bongani Maseko informed Martins about the Guptas’ request to land at OR Tambo and to hold a welcoming reception on the tarmac.
The meeting was attended by Martins, Tony Gupta, Maseko and former chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane.
“At the meeting I explained that the tarmac side was the jurisdiction of the department of home affairs,” said Martins, who also served as energy minister and deputy public enterprises minister.
Martins told the commission, headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo that he explained to Tony Gupta that OR Tambo being such a busy airport it would not be possible or feasible to hold a welcoming reception on the tarmac.
“I mentioned that I was not aware of anybody having had such an opportunity" (before) he said.
According to Martins, the decision was that permission could not be granted.
“Technically, I did not have the authority to do so,” he said, adding that it was the department of home affairs that had the power.
But Gupta was not accepting any of Martins’ rebuttals, asking him: “Are you really denying the guests of the (former) president (Jacob Zuma) and the friends of the president the opportunity to have this welcoming ceremony there?”
Martins said he insisted that irrespective of whose guests or friends they were, permission could not be granted.
Gupta even claimed four or five Indian ministers would be arriving on the plane and that some of the passengers were Zuma’s friends.
Asked by Justice Zondo if he understood why the Guptas were hell bent on landing at OR Tambo and holding a welcoming reception, Martins responded: “I surmised that the importance of holding the welcoming ceremony on the tarmac would project the importance of the visitors and the power and influence of the individuals receiving them”.
The Guptas eventually landed their chartered aircraft at Waterkloof Air Force Base in the capital city on April 30, 2013, but Martins maintained that no-one approached him on this issue.
Martins said in 2011 he interacted with Atul and Tony Gupta during an SABC-The New Age business breakfast when he was still deputy public enterprises minister.
He said the Guptas’ chartered plane entered South African airspace without the requisite permit and he only read about it in the newspapers.
“I wasn’t formally informed,” he said.
The Guptas approached the department of transport in February 2013 to land at OR Tambo, but were dismissed by Acsa.
Meanwhile, former department of justice director-general Nonkululeko Sindane is expected to implicate Zuma in her evidence today.
Koloane was expected to arrive back in the country last night and his legal representative will be present at the commission today.
“He has asked for more time, but we did indicate to him to bring an application,” evidence leader Thandi Norman said.
Jerry Matjila, the current South African ambassador to the UN and the department of international relations and co-operation’s former director-general, has also asked the commission for more time after it addressed him incorrectly and with the wrong title.
Matjila will appear before Justice Zondo on Monday.