Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba’s chief of staff Thamsanqa Msomi asked an official from the department to assist Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla with visa applications.
This was the revelation Major Kobese, a former director in the department’s foreign office, made before the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs’ inquiry into some Gupta family members’ early naturalisation.
He admitted that he intervened on behalf of the Guptas and Chawla with regards to visa applications.
He said he got a call from Msomi, telling him there was a Mr Chawla from Sahara and Infinity Media, who needed some issues with visas cleared up. He said the “driver behind preferential” treatment for the Guptas was that their company had invested a lot in South Africa.
Earlier, Ronald Steyn, a Department of Home Affairs official, conceded that the Guptas’ companies received preferential treatment when it came to the awarding of visas.
Steyn, who has been working for the department for the past 30 years, was sent to the South African High Commission in New Delhi, India in 2015. His task was to issue visas.
He testified before the inquiry on Tuesday that Chawla would call him on his office line to enquire about visa applications for employees of the Guptas’ Sahara and Infinity Media companies. He said he also received emails from Chawla.
Steyn said that, if visa applications did not meet requirements, he did not approve them.
He told the committee he had to process visa applications for Infinity and Sahara quickly or he would get a call. He added he would also be asked to prioritise applications for other companies, like Mahindra.
Midway through his four-year term, in September 2015, Steyn received a call form a deputy director general who asked if he would like to be transferred to Munich. He jumped at the opportunity.
He was to be replaced by Gideon Christians. Committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke said they were aware that Christians had sent his CV to the Guptas.
There is evidence before the committee that Steyn was moved after a breakdown in his relationship with the high commissioner.
He said he had a good working relationship with the high commissioner, there were no disciplinary steps against him and he was unaware of complaints about his work performance.
DA MP Haniff Hoosen said: “The suspicion some of us have is that you were moved out of New Delhi to make space for an official who would be more accommodating to the Guptas.”
Steyn said he knew nothing about that, but after further prodding, he said: “Looking back now, it makes sense as to why I was moved.”
Kobese said he was unaware of a problem between Steyn and the high commissioner. He did not approve of replacing Steyn with Christians, but the decision was made at a higher level.
The committee heard that the decision was made by Gigaba and then director general Mkuseli Apleni.
Deputy director general for immigration services Jackie Mackay insisted that Steyn’s removal from New Delhi was above board. He said the New Delhi office had massive backlogs and it was thought that Steyn would be a better fit in Munich where there were lower volumes of applications.
He said Gigaba told him the high commissioner raised Steyn’s alleged incompetence while he was on a visit to the high commission.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Chauke made several strong statements about state capture.
“When you talk about capture, it is Chawla who captured home affairs.”
“Heads will roll here,” he said.
“We are never going to allow a situation where our country is given away for a plate of curry and KFC for our children.” — News 24