Former Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba

Pretoria - The Oppenheimers have yet again won a legal battle to immediately operate a international customs and immigration service at OR Tambo International Airport for VVIPs.

The Oppenheimers' Fireblade Aviation turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria on Wednesday for an urgent order to hold both the minister and the director general of Home Affairs in contempt of court for not honouring several court orders relating to the issue of providing customs and immigration services for its VIP guests landing at the airport.

They asked that both officials be imprisoned if they further refused to render Fireblade with immigration services. 

But matters never got that far, as the parties agreed to settle.

In October Gauteng High Court, Pretoria Judge Sulet Potterill  gave Fireblade Aviation the green light to run the customs and immigration services.

She ruled that the former Minister of Home Affairs and now Finance MInister Malusi Gigaba did give the Oppenheimers permission to run the service.

The minister in turn vehemently denied that he ever gave permission.

Home Affairs and the minister failed in their subsequent series of attempts to appeal the judgment.

The court meanwhile ordered that in spite of whatever further legal action they took, Home Affairs must provide the Oppenheimers with customs and immigration services at their exclusive terminal at the airport.

The minister and the department have now indicated that they will approach the Constitutional Court directly in a bid to appeal the judgment. They were of the opinion that this move suspended the judgment and the subsequent ruling that the order had to be executed until the last word had been spoken on the matter.

In the agreement, which was made an order of court on Wednesday, both the minister and the department agreed to immediately give effect to Judge Potterill’s judgment and to render the immigration services at the airport to the Oppenheimers.

This agreement will remain in place pending the final determination of any appeal proceedings instituted by the minister in the Constitutional Court.

The Oppenheimers will now, two years after Gigaba gave them the go-ahead to run the exclusive service, for the first time be able to run the customs and immigration services necessary to facilitate international arrivals and departures of heads of state and other important people using private aircraft in and out of Johannesburg on an ad hoc basis.

The court earlier declared that Gigaba did indeed give the company the go-ahead to run a customs and immigration service at the airport.  

Gigaba, however, denied that he ever gave the final approval.

The Oppenheimer family claimed that the minister went back on his word after Denel suddenly cited security concerns over the proposed terminal. They claimed that the Gupta family were behind Denel backtracking.

Their lawyer, Darren Willans, said in an affidavit before court that Fireblade accepted to carry all the costs for the service to it and there would thus be no financial implication for the state.

He said the minister reneged on its approval on spurious grounds.

He said two things were however clear: “The minister (Gigaba at the time) purported to suspend the approval he had granted and then pretended - by lying under oath as found by two courts - not to have granted any approval.”

He said the catalyst for the purported suspension of approval was a “dubious letter from Denel claiming once more to raise unspecified security concerns”.  

Judge Neil Tuchten recently during the failed attempt by the minister to appeal Judge Potterill’s judgment, also commented that Gigaba was not truthful about his version of the events.

“By telling a deliberate untruth on facts central to his decision in this case, the minister has committed a breach of the Constitution so serious that I could characterise it as a violation,” he said.

Judge Tuchten at the time already gave the Oppenheimers permission to go ahead with their VVIP customs lounge, pending any appeals. In this regard he remarked: “It is so important that the minister should not be permitted to perpetuate the injustice by continuing to frustrate the applicant in that which he himself granted to, pending any appeal which might take one to two years to finalise.”

Willans, meanwhile, said that present Home Affairs minister Ayanda Dlodlo, since taking office, also did nothing to comply with the court order as she “did not even see it fit to meet with Fireblade”.

He concluded that it is not in dispute that, as at October this year, Fireblade’s operational losses amounted to about R373-million.

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