Minister: Guptas could be investigated

2013-05-03 17:19
Jeff Radebe (Picture: Sapa)

Jeff Radebe (Picture: Sapa)

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Cape Town - Investigations into the illegal landing of a private jet at the Waterkloof Air Force Base could include looking into the role the Gupta family played in the saga, Justice Minister Jeff Radebe said on Friday.

A committee of directors general had been given seven working days to complete a probe and report to Cabinet on how the jet was allowed to illegally land at the airforce base in Pretoria.

"We have given strict instructions to the committee of DGs... if people outside the structures of government are implicated, that process must take its course, whoever they are," Radebe told a media briefing in Pretoria.

The jet chartered by the wealthy and politically-connected Gupta family landed at the base - a national key point - 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 Democratic Alliance, Congress of SA Trade Unions, African National Congress, Inkatha Freedom Party, and SA Communist Party.

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

Five diplomats, including Indian government ministers, were also aboard the plane, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, said at the briefing.

Her senior officials were to meet Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta on Friday to discuss what she called a "diplomatic incident".

"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," Nkoana-Mashabane said.

This 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," she said.

No executive authority was granted for the landing, which resulted in government calling it a security breach.

It also emerged that because the Jet Airways plane landed at an airforce facility instead of a commercial airport, no landing fees or tariffs were paid.

Passengers were not subjected to customs checks at the base.

SA Revenue Service commissioner Oupa Magashula said customs officials were subsequently sent to Sun City, where wedding guests were staying, to issue customs forms.

It was however impossible for Sars to search all their bags and ascertain what items they had brought into the country.

Radebe said those responsible for the security breach should face punishment.

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

Several suspensions and arrests were announced on Friday.

The suspended officials are:

- Chief of State Protocol: Ambassador Bruce Koloane;

- Officer Commanding Air Force Command post: Brigadier General L Lombard;

- Officer Commanding Air Force Base: Brigadier General TS Madumane;

- Movement Control Officer: Lieutenant Colonel C Anderson; and

- SA Police Service Operational Response Services Gauteng Province: Major General Phumza Gela.

In addition, two metro police officers and a reservist were arrested for working for a security company which provided an escort from the base to the wedding venue in Sun City.

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

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

No permit

Radebe said the landing had not been cleared by the proper authorities.

"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."

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 revealed that the Jet Airways Airbus A330 did not have a foreign operator permit.

The SA Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) would impose a penalty on the operator of the A330 for violation of the Civil Aviation Regulations.

President Jacob Zuma and several ministers were invited to the wedding, some of who did attend.

Zuma could not attend because of international commitments.

Other ministers chose not to attend.

Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was one of them, saying: "You do have colleagues who attended... there's nothing wrong with that, and for those of us who did not attend, it could be for specific reasons that we decided not to attend."

Some time before the unauthorised landing, Mapisa-Nqakula had already denied a request for the aircraft to land at Waterkloof.

- SAPA

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