(Photo: The New Age Board Chairman Atul Gupta and President Jacob Zuma and the First Lady MaNtuli Zuma). President Jacob Zuma at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium for the T20 match between South Africa and India. South Africa. 30/03/2012.

Cape Town - The controversial Gupta family launched a counter-offensive on Friday, rejecting accusations of back-room manipulation and power-broking in the Zuma government.

In a two-page advertisement under the headline “Gupta family: The Inconvenient Truth” in their newspaper, The New Age, the brothers said it was absurd to suggest their group benefited from government business, as only one percent of their business was with the government.

On charges that the Guptas had colonised the country, they said: “This is a ridiculous suggestion,” noting that they had created more than 4 500 jobs for South Africans and contributed R276 million in corporate taxes last year. “Is this colonisation?”

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On claims that the Guptas had got billion-rand coal contracts to supply Eskom, they said they supplied one percent of Eskom’s needs. Total billing to date was R400m.

And on being friends with Zuma, they said: “Like many other South African businesses, we interact with the government.”

Their interaction with him started in 2000, long before he became president. Their friendship with the previous president had been as strong, they said.

“As the global economic slowdown began to bite, the family became the scapegoat for every calamity and misfortune that South Africa has faced,” the Guptas said in the statement.

“We have been quiet until now but given the recent xenophobic and hate speech against us, now is the time to set the record straight.”

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 The statement listed the three Gupta brothers' interests in mining, engineering, technology, media and property, and said they employ 5 000 staff after starting in 1993 with a marketing company in a Johannesburg garage.

“Our position remains: happy to face the consequences for any wrongdoing, hard though to deal with 'whispering campaign’,” it added.

The statement comes after deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said that they offered him the top job in the treasury last year.

He said he rejected the offer, but several other ministerial appointments have been widely reported as being due to the Guptas.

The advertisement appeared hours after Zuma came through a question session in Parliament relatively unscathed on Thursday.

Pressed by DA leader Mmusi Maimane on whether the Guptas had ever been involved in the appointment of ministers, Zuma said: “I am in charge of the government. I appoint in terms of the constitution. There is no minister who is here who was appointed by the Guptas or by anybody else; ministers who are here were appointed by me.”

Cape Argus and AFP