The Guptas are getting ready for the wedding to end all weddings in Antalya along Turkey’s Mediterranean coast – a welcome break, no doubt, after weeks of trauma over their political and business dealings in South Africa.
The wedding of Ajay Gupta’s son Kamal has been booked for April 21 to 24 at a luxurious hotel in the coastal city. And the festivities happen to coincide with President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Iran on April 23 and 24 – just a three-hour flight away.
Presidency spokesperson Bongani Majola said he was not aware of the president receiving any wedding invitation from the Guptas.
Various sources this week said the wedding is to take place at the five-star Mardan Palace, a favourite wedding venue among the über-wealthy. The 180 000m2 hotel boasts breathtaking views of the Taurus Mountains and offers a range of spa treatments, according to its website.
But with rooms that come standard with toiletries by French luxury brand Hermès, it costs up to R8 000 per person per night.
A source in Antalya told the Mail & Guardian that the “entire” hotel had been booked out for April 23 for a “rich Indian wedding”. The same source later confirmed that it was the wedding of Kamal Gupta.
Ironically, it was also a family wedding that saw the controversial family fly into their first major political storm in South Africa.
Waterkloof red carpet
Three years ago, a plane carrying the family’s wedding guests from India irregularly landed at Waterkloof air force base near Pretoria. At the time, officials from the department of home affairs rolled out the red carpet for the visitors by sending officials to the base to process their arrival.
This time, the Guptas appear to have stuck to strict protocols in Turkey. Turkey’s ambassador to South Africa, Kaan Esener, said the embassy had not received any request for assistance from the Gupta family.
Esener said his country had an e-visa system in place that enabled travellers to apply for their visas online, adding that South African passport- holders were also issued with visas when they arrived in Turkey.
Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, as well as the president’s son Duduzane Zuma, stepped down as directors of Oakbay Resources and Energy and Oakbay Investments last Friday.
This came on the back of the political storm that erupted after they were accused of irregularly offering deputy minister of finance, Mcebisi Jonas, the position of South African finance minister late last year.
In addition, further revelations of their involvement in facilitating the appointment of key individuals at some of the country’s parastatals saw their auditors, their JSE sponsor and their South African bankers withdraw from any further involvement with them.
Staff at the Gupta-owned media company TNA, which includes daily newspaper the New Age and television news channel ANN7, have been assured they will be paid at the end of May as the family tries to negotiate with “more enlightened” banks.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan added to the Guptas’ woes when his office threatened to take action against them, claiming that due process was not followed in setting up a joint venture between state arms company Denel and VR Laser Services, a company partly owned by the Guptas and Duduzani Zuma.
The deal, which has yet to be approved by either the treasury or the department of public enterprises, is believed to be at the centre of the suspension of three Denel executives: chief executive Riaz Saloojee, chief financial officer, Fikile Mhlontlo and company secretary Elizabeth Africa.
The treasury has warned Denel directors that they could face misconduct charges under the Public Finance Management Act should they proceed with the deal without the required approval.
The M&G sent questions to Oakbay’s corporate communications unit, the family’s preferred mechanism for liaising with the media, but the company had not responded by the time of going to press.
Meanwhile, the department of trade and industry is finalising its list of business delegates to accompany Zuma on his forthcoming trip to Iran.
Though there is no indication of which Cabinet ministers may have scored invites to the Gupta wedding, an official delegation to Iran is likely to include Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson and Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane.
Nkoana-Mashabane’s spokesperson, Clayson Monyela, confirmed that she would be travelling to Iran, but said the minister had no intention of attending the Gupta wedding.
“The minister has no plans to travel to Turkey. The Iran trip is a state visit and it is standard that the minister has to be there,” Monyela said.
Co-operative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen’s office said the minister “was not invited” to the wedding, while Zwane’s office had not responded by the time of going to press.
A senior government official, who asked not to be identified, said though several ministers would have been invited to the wedding, it was “unlikely” that many would attend.
“Usually, they [the Gupta family] invite all Cabinet ministers. Given the controversy around the influence of the Guptas, I don’t think there will be a single minister who will go to the wedding,” the official said.
Gupta brothers ‘still here’
Amid several reports that brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh have fled South Africa to get away from the controversy, at least two well-placed sources told the M&G they were less convinced.
“It’s not true at all. They have not left the country. They are still here,” said a Gupta employee, who works closely with the brothers.
Another source who previously served with Atul Gupta on the board of Brand SA said Atul had bought a home in Dubai a few years ago.
“He has been travelling between South Africa and Dubai over the years. It would be naive to believe the story that they left the country. They [the Gupta family] have not disengaged in their business in South Africa. They have not sold shares. The story was leaked just to divert attention,” said the source.
For now, the Gupta brothers can put aside their woes as they prepare for the upcoming nuptials.
Though Zuma was not at the other controversial 2013 Gupta wedding, several Cabinet ministers, among them then Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba, were spotted. This week Gigaba would not be drawn on whether he would be attending the lavish affair in Antalya.
Former chief state protocol officer Bruce Koloane, widely seen as a scapegoat for the 2013 plane incident, was demoted after accepting blame for the irregular landing. He has since been given a diplomatic posting to the Netherlands.