There was a time when the Guptas were considered by some business associates as “all icing, no cake”.
“They had a little Walker jet and insisted on keeping it, even though there was nothing in their company.” This titbit from a former associate dates back to 2007, not very long ago, when the family was still plotting their foray into SA Inc.
By 2009 Jacob Zuma was president and the Guptas seemingly got hold of the prized key to our government.
This week’s leaked Gupta emails have reinforced the belief that our institutions are compromised at the expense of South Africa.
Although those implicated will question the authenticity of the leak, said to contain some 200 000 emails, it is impossible to disregard elements indicating overt criminal action.
The plan for Zuma to make Dubai his second home is not nearly as damning as the extensive details showing that his son, Duduzane, was a kept man courtesy of the Guptas, who bankrolled his lifestyle.
Said the former associate: “An old friend of [Duduzane] tried to say hello in a restaurant once. He was in the company of Tony Gupta, who seemed unimpressed. When the friend told him relax, that he had known Duduzane for many years, Tony apparently said: ‘Would you leave a blank cheque lying around?’ ”
He read this to mean Duduzane was the Guptas’ blank cheque.
This claim can’t be verified, but it is not hard to believe when read against the mountain of information about the young Zuma and the Guptas.
The latest exposé – of emails purportedly of exchanges between a Gupta company executive, Ashu Chawla, and a string of lobbyists, civil servants and low-level opportunists – is scandalous and heartbreaking.
The mails suggest Gupta HQ is a shop for people lobbying for government jobs or for those in need of well-crafted missives to royals in the United Arab Emirates. They suggest that multibillion-rand deals have been structured so that large chunks of your tax rand landed in Gupta coffers. They, in turn, kept the wheels of state capture turning by greasing the palms of their enablers – civil servants, executives in state-owned companies and Cabinet members.
Where are South Africa’s law enforcement agencies: Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, acting Hawks head Yolisa Matakata and national director of public prosecutions Shaun Abrahams? By Thursday, day five since the email leaks started, there had been no indication of action from anyone, not an investigation, not an arrest, not a statement.
The emails appears consistent with the theory that the Guptas run a large part of the government.
The public may be baying for blood, but “we are getting this new information against all sorts of presumptions”, says criminal law expert and visiting professor at Wits University James Grant.
Although Grant agrees there are already prosecutable cases of state capture in the public domain, it is important to remember that “we are prepared to presume that the emails are authentic because they involve the usual characters”.
Strands from the emails – such as those involving former communications minister Faith Muthambi sharing confidential Cabinet information with the Guptas – warrant an immediate investigation. If true, she committed a crime punishable by a hefty jail sentence.
“In a world of angels, this case can be immediately investigated because not only is it an offence to disclose this information, it is also an offence to receive it,” said Grant.
But in South Africa there is a big difference between what ought to happen and what actually happens.
The Gupta family’s attorney, Gert van der Merwe, says he has advised the family to lay criminal charges insofar as they claim the emails may have been tampered with.
The Hawks, asked about the emails, said: “We only investigate matters that have been brought to our attention.”
Abrahams said he had no request for an investigation in terms of the National Prosecuting Authority Act (section 28), the only lawful basis for the NPA to investigate.
Thus far the only evidence of a state capture investigation was when Abrahams told Parliament he had handed former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report to the Specialist Commercial Crimes Unit and that they were working closely with the Hawks.
So far only the Democratic Alliance has lodged a criminal case on the back of the leaked emails, with one of the proposed charges being treason.
The local cast of the emails saga
Duduzane Zuma: The president’s son is a kept man – the Guptas appear to have spent millions on overseas flights, an R18-million flat in Dubai, his wedding, maintenance payments and a fat municipal bill.
Minister 1: Malusi Gigaba’s ties with the family appear to date back to his time at the departments of public enterprises and home affairs.
Minister 2: Mosebenzi Zwane was catapulted into the post of mineral resources minister in 2015. His appointment coincided with the Guptas’ quest to snatch Optimum mine from Glencore.
Minister 3: Des van Rooyen allegedly lied when he said he funded his own “in-and-out” trip to Dubai in December 2015, amid the Nenegate scandal that made him finance minister for four days.
Matshela Koko: The Eskom executive was flown to Dubai at Gupta expense as the family tried to raise much-needed cash to buy Optimum. Eskom later funded part of the purchase, thanks to a prepayment given to the Guptas.
Anoj Singh: Transnet’s chief finance officer scored trips to Dubai for meetings with the Guptas, who issued an instruction to “swipe card” his R85 000 bill in 2014. The Guptas facilitated a multibillion-rand contract for new locomotives.
He is now Eskom’s money man.
Rajesh Naithani: Thanks to the Guptas an Indian with no aviation expertise landed a board post at SAA and later at SA Express.
Thamsanqa Msomi: The Denel board member and adviser to Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba served as the Guptas’ fixer for various visa hassles when he and Gigaba were at the home affairs department, allegedly at times on Gigaba’s instruction.
Hamza Farooqui: He denied Gupta ties in his bid to buy Habib Overseas Bank. He may have been in on a plot by then Gupta PR firm Bell Pottinger to falsely claim he had paid bribes to former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas shortly after Jonas exposed how he had turned down a R600-million bribe offer from the Guptas.