Pretoria - The Oppenheimer family’s company Fireblade on Friday won its legal battle in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria when a judge declared that former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba did indeed give the company the go-ahead to run a customs and immigration service at OR Tambo International Airport.
The approval was granted last year, but it was revoked a few days later, apparently following pressure from the Gupta family.
Fireblade subsequently asked the court to declare that the approval remained of force and effect and that it may not be revoked.
Judge Sulet Potterill said the facts reflect that the concept of establishing a fixed based aviation operation (FBO) was already floated in 2011 and had the support of OR Tambo International Airport, the airports company, Denel and the Department of Home Affairs.
It required Fireblade to adhere to many regulatory hoops from various departments and institutions. “It was a four year expensive exercise to establish this seven star facility,” the judge said.
She said the last step in the process was the approval by the minister. Fireblade claimed that at a meeting in January last year the minister informed all present that he had already signed the approval of the Fireblade application. The minister, in turn, denied this.
The judge said during January, last year's meeting, the minister stated that all stakeholders had indicated their support. Only his approval was outstanding. Denel by then had already given its approval and relayed this to the minister.
Denel at the time said: “We are pleased to inform you that Denel approves and support our tenants in these premises. We are therefore endorsing the project to go-ahead…”
The minister then instructed that the operational plan had to be finalised, a feasibility study had to be done and he said that he would like to explore the possible use of a Fireblade facility to promote the new Premium Visa Visitation Centre for Businessmen.
He even at the time requested Fireblade to invite President Zuma to the formal opening ceremony to be held in future.
On the same day the Oppenheimers expressed their delight that “all outstanding matters were resolved”.
The judge said it seemed at that stage that after four years of negotiations and all the stakeholders buying into the project, all was set to go.
The minister a few days later announced that “the approval we granted them is suspended until further notice.”
The judge in this regard said: “If approval was to be given in future, what past approval needed to be suspended? She found that the minister’s reasons for the “suspension” were “palpably untrue”.
She said the minutes of the meeting reflected that the minister signed the approval. The minister, in turn, disputed that the minutes of the meeting was true and that he did give the go-ahead.
The judge, however, said: “I find the minister’s version to be rejected. I declare that the minister did on January 28, 2016, grant Fireblade’s application for an ad hoc international customs and immigration service component…”
She declared that the minister’s approval is thus of force and effect and may not be revoked without due cause. She said Fireblade can implement and rely on the approval.