Johannesburg - Community activists criticised by Police Minister Fikile Mbalula for tabling handsome rewards for the arrest of fugitive Ajay Gupta have hit back, saying the offer was "not a bounty".
Last week, NGO Forensics For Justice offered a R500 000 reward for anyone who provided information regarding Ajay’s whereabouts. There was a further R100 000 if the tip-off led to an arrest. The NGO’s offer was valid until Sunday night, according to its website.
The Police Ministry criticised the move at the weekend, saying this endangered the lives of suspects, their lookalikes and the public.
But Forensics For Justice director and private investigator Paul O’Sullivan defended the offer.
Ajay was declared a fugitive by the Hawks after he failed to hand himself over to authorities in relation to the controversial Estina Dairy Farm project that saw several suspects arrested last week.
Among them were former Free State government officials and associates of the Guptas.
“The minister is ill-informed. We have put out a reward for information, which we would immediately pass on to the Hawks," O’Sullivan said. "The minister seems to be under the impression that we are running a bounty-hunting operation, but we are not.
"And if he had taken a look at our statement himself, he wouldn’t be making such incoherent statements. He has suggested that we are offering money for the capture, but that’s rubbish.
"Our statement is crystal clear that we are offering money for the information leading to the arrest of these people.”
He said he would not exchange words with the minister, but added that Mbalula should have read the statement before commenting.
“We are not in the business of paying rewards to people so that police can go and start arresting people. It’s the job of the police to arrest these people.
"We have just put up a reward for information that will lead to their arrest."
This was reiterated by businesswoman Magda Wierzycka, who also offered a R200 000 reward. Donations have since shot up to over R2million.
“We have received hundreds of responses. We were inundated. It proves that the system does work,” O’Sullivan said.
The Hawks said an unnamed security company was protecting Ajay. But O’Sullivan said this was “fake news”. He said Ajay had left the country.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi refused to name the company allegedly protecting the eldest of the three Gupta brothers.
“I can’t (give the name); it’s operational,” he said. “They will sue you guys (media).”
Asked if the Hawks were considering any action against the security company, Mulaudzi said the Private Security Independent Regulatory Authority should act.
“What are they doing? They (security company) knew that these guys were fugitives. Everybody must be working with us, not against us,” he said. “If you are hiding somebody, you become an accessory.”
Speaking to SABC News yesterday, Mbalula said the Hawks had approached the Guptas' lawyers and Ajay had offered to hand himself over, but was “now playing a cat and mouse game”.
Five suspects were being sought by police, he noted.