Gupta saga: Indian official in hot seat

2013-05-03 16:07
Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Picture: Sapa)

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - Senior government officials will hold talks with the Indian High Commissioner on Friday about a "diplomatic incident" involving the Gupta family, said International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane.

A government probe was underway into a possible breach of diplomatic protocol when a privately chartered plane carrying guests to a Gupta family wedding landed at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, she said.

The investigation was being carried out by a committee of directors general from various government departments, she told reporters in Pretoria and Cape Town during a briefing. They had seven days to complete the probe.

Government said on Friday the landing at the national key point was unauthorised.

Nkoana-Mashabane said a group of dignitaries, including Indian state ministers, was on board the plane.

"What we need to conclude in seven working days is whether there's been a breach of diplomatic protocol processes...

"We will use diplomatic channels to register our displeasure with the Indian government," she said.

It was a sensitive matter as South Africa had sound diplomatic relations with India.

"Whether there'll be punishment or not will be co-ordinated by ourselves, procedurally, working together with the government of India."

Also at the briefing, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said those responsible for the security breach would face punishment.

All those responsible for bringing the country into "disrepute" would be held accountable, "whoever they are, whatever positions they hold", Radebe said.

He announced that five high ranking officials and military personnel had been suspended over the unauthorised landing.

They are: the Chief of State Protocol ambassador Bruce Koloane; SA Air Force (SAAF) command post Brigadier General L Lombard; Air Force Base Brigadier General TS Madumane; Movement Control Officer Lieutenant Colonel C Anderson; and Gauteng deputy provincial police commissioner Major General Phumza Gela.

In addition, two metro police officers and a reservist had been arrested for working for a security company which provided an escort from the base to the Gupta wedding venue at Sun City, North West.

Radebe said the private security company had illegally fitted blue lights to vehicles with false number plates.

"The use of a marked SA Police Service vehicle is still under investigation," he said.

Gravely concerned

The jet chartered by the wealthy and politically-connected Gupta family landed at the base on Tuesday.

It was carrying guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta, 23, to Indian-born Aaskash Jahajgarhia at Sun City, North West. The Gupta's own The New Age newspaper and Sahara Computers.

The jet was moved off the base on Thursday afternoon, amid widespread criticism by, among others, the Congress of SA Trade Unions, the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance, the Inkatha Freedom Party, and the SA Communist Party.

The SA National Defence Force said the plane flew to the nearby commercial OR Tambo International Airport, in Kempton Park.

"Government is gravely concerned at this violation of the security protocol and total disregard of established practice for clearing the landing of [an] aircraft in a military facility that is of strategic importance to the country," said Radebe.

He said government had no record of a note verbale from the Indian High Commission notifying the department of international relations of a visiting delegation requiring diplomatic assistance, aircraft clearance, and landing rights.

"The defence attach of the Indian High Commission sent a request for aircraft clearance directly to the Air Force Command Unit within the SANDF on 4 April," he said.

"The SA Air Force consulted with the Office of State Protocol at [the department] and facilitated the clearance of the aircraft without informing the Chief of the SANDF."

Radebe also revealed the Jet Airways Airbus A330 did not have a foreign operator's permit.

The SA Civil Aviation Authority would penalise the operator of the A330 for violating Civil Aviation Regulations.

"The government would like to assure the South African public that no stone will be left unturned to ensure that we get to the bottom of this matter, and hold all those responsible for bringing our country into disrepute, whoever they are and whatever position they hold," said Radebe.

"We want to assure the South African public that we will do all in our power to strengthen security protocols and to ensure adherence to them," he said.

Read more on:    sandf  |  jeff radebe  |  maite nkoana-mashabane  |  vega gupta  |  india  |  gupta wedding  |  military  |  gupta jet

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