South Africa suspended five officials and arrested two police officers and a reservist while it investigates why wedding guests of the Gupta family, which has links with President Jacob Zuma, landed at a military base.
The government placed the chief of state protocol, three military officers and a police major general on leave following the April 30 incident. South Africa’s security was breached by the plane landing at Waterkloof Air Force base “without any executive authority,” Justice Minister Jeff Radebe told reporters today in Pretoria, the capital. A spokesman for the wedding, Haranath Ghosh, said the plane had “full permission” to land at the facility.
“All those who brought our country into disrepute will be held to account no matter who they are or what positions they hold,” Radebe said. “Our particular concern is that the aircraft was carrying international passengers who do not fit the category of government officials or VIPs on official duty.”
Black BMWs, which formed part of a VIP escort for the guests, were fitted illegally with flashing police lights as they carried guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia, Radebe said.
The Guptas, an Indian family that has been doing business in South Africa since 1993, own Sahara Computers and The New Age newspaper. They were part of a group including Zuma’s son, Duduzane, that sought 800 million rand ($90 million) for a mining right disputed by Anglo American Plc unit Kumba Iron Ore. Members of the family also control Shiva Uranium Ltd.
Zuma has been a friend of the Gupta family for about a decade, Sahara Computers Managing Director Atul Gupta said in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick in 2011. Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane told reporters yesterday that Zuma wouldn’t attend the wedding, which was held from April 30 to May 2.
The incident drew criticism from the ruling African National Congress, the opposition Democratic Alliance and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ANC ally.
“We need a full-scale parliamentary investigation,” David Maynier, defense spokesman for the Democratic Alliance, said in an e-mail. “We cannot have a situation where responsibility is displaced to senior officials who are then hung out to dry in an effort to contain the political fallout from ‘Guptagate’.”
The air force base, on the outskirts of Pretoria, is classified as a “national key point” and access is restricted to government and military officials.
“Waterkloof Air Force base was used with full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries including some ministers,” wedding spokesman Ghosh said in an e-mailed statement today.
The government yesterday said it will probe whether the Indian High Commission abused its diplomatic privilege by asking for permission for the landing after the Department of Defense had rejected a bid by Sahara.
“We have rules, we have regulations, we have protocols that we will follow,” South African International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told reporters today. “We followed the paper trial. There were breaches. There was no go- ahead at the highest level.”
Virendra Gupta, the Indian High Commissioner, denied any wrongdoing.
“We did apply for permission for the landing of the special plane at Waterkloof because there were several VIPS, senior ministers and political figures from India, who were going to come on the flight,” he said in comments broadcast on Johannesburg-based SAFM today. “We’re very concerned about the security of our senior political figures when they travel abroad.”
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