This week news broke that the Asset Forfeiture Unit is targeting companies associated with allegations of state capture, which in turn revolve around the Gupta family. The family itself was, at the time of publication, not subject to forfeiture attempts but efforts to preserve the value of assets, and keep money in the country, appeared to be imminent.
If an enterprising investigator were to go looking abroad for assets of the Gupta family of Saxonwold, the “heli-pilgrimage” company Heritage Aviation of the Uttarakhand province in India would not immediately present itself as a target.
For one thing, as of September 2015, it was decided best not to inform the Indian government that LCR Investment had become the majority shareholder six months before, because that change of control would jeopardise its aviation licence.
One of Ajay Gupta’s sons is a director of LCR. In 2013 Vega Gupta, the bride at the infamous Sun City wedding, identified LCR as part of her family’s holdings.
This may pique the interest of anyone seeking to secure assets. But Heritage does not own the aircraft it operates, and tracking down the beneficial ownership of the craft would quickly run aground on opaque agreements between letterbox companies scattered around the world.
If, however, our hypothetical investigator had access to the GuptaLeaks emails, things would become much clearer.
“… we buying 2 helicoptor”, Gupta lieutenant and Sahara CEO Ashu Chawla wrote to the company’s South African lawyers in February 2015. Attached was the first paperwork for the purchase of two helicopters worth some R130-million at the time, in the name of Dubai-based Fidelity Investment.
Fidelity is one of the companies identified by the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism as a conduit for government money paid to a dairy project in the Free State before ending up funding the Vega Gupta wedding.
Fidelity, documents suggest, received the money from Heritage itself. Heritage, however, was teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It could only fund the purchase thanks to a capital injection by LCR.
LCR, in turn, seems to have received most of its funding by way of a loan from SES Technologies, a company the Gupta group described as part of its global family.
Yet it was Fidelity that appeared on the purchase and lease documents.
Legally speaking, the helicopters are under the control of Dubai resident Sanjay Grover, the only director of Fidelity, who wrote the threatening letters in September 2015 when Heritage failed to make its lease payments. South African authorities would have no claim over the craft.
But the practical reality is very different.
“You will agree that Boss had helped you by giving you three helicopters and two air craft,” Chawla wrote to Heritage operator Rohit Mathur in 2015, after Mathur had been summoned to a meeting in South Africa with “Ajay Boss”.
It was also Ajay Gupta who, by way of Chwala, signed off on Fidelity’s demands for the lease payments, and threats to close down Heritage if necessary.
Mathur, the Heritage operator and the company’s face for official purposes, ended up pleading in pitiful fashion to be allowed to continue to run the company.
Within days of Heritage taking delivery of its first two helicopters courtesy of the Dubai-based Fidelity, the same set of companies started negotiations to buy another two Airbus helicopters.
Just which legal entities bought the craft that propelled Heritage to new heights is not clear; the leaked emails run out.
But, according to the latest available listing from India’s directorate general of civil aviation, Heritage now sports a fleet of eight aircraft.