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Waterkloof key point or not, Guptas, Zuma must be probed

Sapa

Opposition parties say the Gupta family should be prosecuted, adding that a probe into the president's involvement in the plane saga is needed.

Gupta wedding guests. (Gallo)

It comes as no surprise that President Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet were exonerated from the Gupta airplane landing saga, said the Democratic Alliance (DA) on Sunday.

"From the start, the investigation into the landing ... was a carefully crafted damage control exercise designed to protect ... Zuma and members of his Cabinet from the political fallout," said DA MP David Maynier.

"The scope of the investigation must include the role played by President Zuma and members of his Cabinet."

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on Sunday delivered a summary of the findings of an investigation by several ministers into the landing of a privately chartered plane by the Gupta family at the Waterkloof Air Force base on April 29.

Maynier said an independent investigation by public protector Thuli Madonsela into the controversial plane landing was needed.

A plane chartered by the Gupta family carrying 270 wedding guests landed at the base last month. Guests were attending the wedding of Vega Gupta (23) and Aakash Jahajgarhia at Sun City.

The landing sparked widespread criticism and several government ministers initiated an investigation into a possible breach of diplomatic protocol.

The South African National Defence Force at the time denied knowledge of the landing and subsequently suspended three of its members. 

But documents seen by the Mail & Guardian in early May showed the senior officials in the force were aware of the landing.

Name-dropping
On Sunday, Radebe said Zuma and his Cabinet had no involvement in the landing. Radebe said one of the findings of the investigation was that the landing was a direct result of manipulation of processes.

He said names had been "dropped" during the course of the probe, including that of Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, Transport Minister Ben Martins and Zuma.

Radebe also explained that the Waterkloof Air Force is not a national key point.

"The Air Force Base Waterkloof is a strategic military base ... [it] is not a national key point and is not governed by the National Key Points Act ... " he said.

"The Air Force Base Waterkloof handles both civilian and military aircraft."

He said the aircraft was cleared for landing and the correct clearance procedures were followed but the landing was based on false information and abuse of privileges by a group who acted in common purpose.

The investigation found that the wealthy Gupta family resorted to using diplomatic channels when it failed to get landing rights from ministers and the Airports Company South Africa.

Freedom Front Plus spokesperson Pieter Groenewald demanded that decisive action be taken. He said Radebe's statement that false information and abuse of privileges led to the landing amounted to fraud.

'Named and prosecuted'
"The guilty should be named and prosecuted. The fact that false information led to the correct landing procedures being followed creates a serious void in the process which has to be followed to allow airplanes to land," he said in a statement.

"It does not matter whether Waterkloof is a national key point or not; the fact is that Waterkloof is a military air force base and is therefore a security area and a serious security breach took place."

Radebe said on Sunday the police and the National Prosecuting Authority were responsible for deciding whether the Gupta family would be prosecuted.

"That's the decision of the national police commissioner [Riah Phiyega], with her officers," Radebe said. "Who has to be prosecuted? That decision has to be taken by the National Prosecuting Authority, which they must do without any fear, favour or prejudice and no one, including the minister, can interfere in those prosecutorial decisions."

On Sunday, the Gupta family said it only wanted to hold a memorable wedding but realised that some bad decisions could have been made in the process.

" ... perhaps some misjudgments may have been made," family spokesperson Gary Naidoo said in a statement.

He said the report shed some light on the matter and the family would wait for the release of the full report. The full ministers' report is expected to be made public during the course of next week.

"We wish to once again re-iterate our apology for any embarrassment or inconvenience caused by the landing of the aircraft," said Naidoo. – Sapa

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