Former ANN7 editor calls for second probe into visas

Former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram. (Gallo)

Former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram. (Gallo)

Former ANN7 editor Rajesh Sundaram has called for a full transparent investigation into the channel's affairs following "incorrect" statements made by the department of home affairs about four Indian employees of the channel, who were found to be in South Africa on invalid work permits.

Sundaram claims a "cover-up" is underway at the Gupta-owned channel, and said only a wide-ranging probe would uncover the extent of the damage.

But home affairs claims its investigation is complete and a report has been given to Home Affairs Minister Naledi Pandor. The department said it is the minister's prerogative to decide whether the full outcome will ever be known.  

Sundaram fled the country shortly after the launch of the channel following a scuffle with a bodyguard of the Gupta family.

He claimed that he feared for his life and could no longer turn a blind eye to the goings-on at the channel.

Pandor told Parliament recently that four ANN7 employees had been ordered to leave the country after it was discovered their work permits were invalid. 

Pandor said the original complaint received by the department indicated that eight employees were in the country illegally.

"The department established that four of the eight foreigners had left the country and that the remaining four provided training to employees of ANN7 but were not on their payroll," said Pandor.

"Even though ANN7 did not regard them as employees, and though they were not receiving compensation, the department determined that they had overstepped their permit conditions.
They were ordered to leave the country."

Sundaram wrote to home affairs shortly after fleeing the country in early September alleging that various immigration laws had been flouted in the hiring of ANN7 employees from India. Another complaint was forwarded to home affairs on September 6. He warned the department that ANN7 employees would be sent back to India to cover up evidence.

On Wednesday, Sundaram wrote to home affairs again alleging that Pandor's response to Parliament contained "incorrect facts" and asked for an investigation.

"I read with dismay a written reply by Naledi Pandor, minister of home affairs in Parliament [on Tuesday]. Incorrect facts are part of the reply and this will dilute the charges against the accused and help them avoid harsh punishment," said Sundaram.

He said the number of employees who violated visa laws was "much higher" than eight and that the four employees who were asked to leave the country were not "trainers", as "erroneously" mentioned in Pandor's reply.

"They were working in various editorial and technical positions at ANN7. The same can easily be verified if ANN7 employees are assured anonymity and asked to describe the job profile of these individuals," he said.

'Salary advance'
Sundaram said as editor at ANN7 he could confirm that staff at the channel were not put through structured training involving expert trainers.

"Any member of the ANN7 newsroom will vouch for this."

"These employees were paid a salary advance in cash in India in Indian rupees and were given accommodation and food in South Africa. I was informed that payment was made to them at the office of Lami Goel at New Delhi by his personal assistant Laly Thomas in cash. Laxmi Goel is a director at Infinity Media.

"All the visa violators have been assured that they will be given 'intra-company transfer' visas on their return to India despite their status as willful violators of visa conditions at the first instance.

"Some of these people have already applied for visas again at the South African High Commission in New Delhi.

"They have been asked to pay a fine of R1 000, before they apply again for a visa. Drafts for this amount are being given by the office of Laxmi Goel, director, Infinity Media."

Sundaram went further, alleging that evidence which could prove his claims was destroyed at the ANN7 offices.

"After I filed my first formal complaint with your office, Atul Gupta and the management at ANN7 arranged for many of their employees working without the required visas to leave South Africa at the earliest."

"This amounts to manipulation and criminal destruction of evidence and should be investigated as such. I had written a formal complaint in this regard on the 6th of September.”

He said Indian personnel hired at ANN7 held positions which required skills “abundantly available” in South Africa.

"They are taking up jobs that belong to young South Africans. I am ready to give evidence on an affidavit whenever required by you and am willing to assist with a fresh probe, if you wish to reopen some of the issues," he said.

Home affairs deputy director general of communications Ronnie Mamoepa told the Mail & Guardian that the issue could not be investigated twice.

"The matter has been investigated and the minister has got the report. We should wait for the minister's final report."

Asked whether the full report would be made public, Mamoepa said, "It’s the prerogative of the minister."

He confirmed that home affairs had not asked Sundaram for a written statement. "The minister will apply her mind as to what action will be taken," said Mamoepa. 

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans