The role of former Sahara chief executive and Gupta fixer Ashu Chawla in the operations of home affairs came under close scrutiny in Parliament on Thursday as it was disclosed that officials in the department had shared sensitive information about staff deployments with Chawla.
Sitting before MPs in the portfolio committee on home affairs on Thursday, Major Kobese — a former director in the department’s foreign office — could not explain why, on November 2 2015, he sent an email to Chawla’s email address at Sahara informing him about internal details of a staff member’s deployment to a mission in New Delhi.
“I must’ve sent the email by error,” said Kobese, who is now the director of appeals in the home affairs’ immigration office.
Hlomani Chauke, the chair of the committee, applauded Kobese for admitting he knew Chawla, but said that he had allowed himself to become “compromised”.
“You then compromised the responsibility of you being the officer of the state that must deal with certain matters within the law, and not to share information with strangers who are not in the system,” Chauke said.
The official who had been deployed to New Delhi was Gideon Christians — revealed in the #GuptaLeaks emails to be a close associate of the Guptas. Christians is alleged to have fast-tracked visas for Gupta employees at Chawla’s request. In exchange, he allegedly was handed paid-for visas to Dubai for his family, and Chawla assisted him to import a motorbike from India. Chauke said that through his connections in home affairs, Chawla was able to “manipulate” operations to “get what he wants”.
Kobese denied, however, that there was anything untoward or corrupt in the department with regard to the Guptas or Chawla.
“From where I am sitting, I haven’t come across any inkling that there was corrupt activity, so for me I am comfortable in the role I played,” he said.
That role, he said, was to assist Chawla when he encountered “bottlenecks”. He said that Chawla would make requests to the department but when there was a delay, Chawla would them contact him for further assistance, Kobese said.
Chauke and the committee are looking for Chawla. On Thursday, at the start of proceedings, Chauke informed the committee that Chawla’s lawyer had made contact with him on Wednesday evening to say that he is in India until November.
“He said all correspondence will have to be communicated via his lawyer,” said Chauke said.
The committee, however, has asked home affairs acting director-general Thulani Mavuso to verify that Chawla is out of the country. Chawla is currently out on bail after he was implicated in the Estina dairy case. His bail conditions in February included that he surrender his passport, leaving him unable to travel outside the country.
Mavuso told the committee he would he give them details of Chawla’s whereabouts when he received more information.
Chawla is believed to have had a high level of involvement in the sensitive operations of home affairs. Christians was moved to New Delhi after there were “complaints” about his predecessor. Once Christians took over the post, Kobese said there had been less complaints from “everyone, not just Chawla alone”.
“Chawla was very highly involved in that appointment and influenced that appointment,” Chauke said.
“His problems were sort of solved the minute Christians appeared in that place.”
Kobese has denied that he was involved in a racket with Chawla and Christians. He also denied that he received any benefit from his interactions with Chawla.
“I didn’t even see the [Sun City wedding] on TV,” Kobese said.