#GuptaEmails: Who is Rajesh Naithani?

The explosive Gupta emails revealed by the Sunday newspapers refer to Rajesh Naithani allegedly lobbying Tony Gupta for a board position at one of the country’s state-owned enterprises.

Tony, the younger Gupta brother, is not in government and legally has no authority to make board appointments but the system does allow for public nominations for such posts.

Naithani allegedly wrote to the Guptas when he realised that his time at SAA was coming to an end.

He was appointed to the SAA board by former public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba in 2012, an appointment that has been a source of speculation for many years, given that Naithani does not have any obvious aviation expertise.

Now a series of leaked emails published by the Sunday Times and City Press show how Naithani had allegedly sent an email to Ashu Chawla, an executive at the Gupta-owned Sahara company, asking him to alert Tony Gupta about his impending removal from the SAA board.

Naithani also sent his CV along with his in September 2014 correspondence asking “for possible positions in boards” – and even suggested Transnet as an option.

“I have received a mail in which they have said they will be removing seven directors from SAA which includes me. Please convey this to Tony Bhai (brother in Hindi),” read one of the emails published this weekend.

Although Naithani did leave SAA in November 2014, he did not sit idle for too long. About six months later he landed a board position at SA Express as part of a group of new board members announced by Gigaba’s replacement, Lynne Brown.

The Gupta family has so far not commented on the content of the various emails but has, through their lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, asked that the media disclose them and the sources thereof to enable them to comment on the allegations.

Naithani was appointed to the SA Express (SAX) board in May 2015. On Monday, the airline on confirmed that he is still on the board. The M&G has requested comment from Naithani and will update this story once it is provided.

A mini-profile in the 2015 Annual Report of SAX records Naithani’s details as: independent non-executive director, who holds a PhD in pharmaceutical chemistry and an MBA in strategy and marketing. His area of expertise is listed as science, medicine and academia.

Asked about the circumstances of his appointment, Brown’s spokesperson, Colin Cruywagen, would only refer to the general process followed when such appointments are made.

Asked if Naithani continues to serve on the SAX board, Cruywagen said the department would not comment on this appointment.

He did confirm that Brown had initiated a full-scale investigation – with the assistance of the Special Investigative Unit – into Eskom. He said this would also cover other state-owned entities.

The minister is under fire over the re-appointment of Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe, a string of controversial reports into procurement irregularities at Eskom and the involvement of the Guptas.

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Jessica Bezuidenhout
Jessica Bezuidenhout joined the Mail & Guardian as an investigative reporter in March 2016 after 20 years at the Sunday Times working on news and investigations. She has been the joint winner of several local and international journalism awards, including Nat Nakasa, Mondi, Vodacom regional journalist of the year and Misa, and runner-up for the 2003 Natali Prize.

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