Lords of all they survey

2017-06-04 06:01
Atul Gupta. Picture: Lauren Mulligan/ Photo24

Atul Gupta. Picture: Lauren Mulligan/ Photo24

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Whenever Atul Gupta arrived at The New Age’s offices in Midrand, some of his staff from India would bend and touch his feet.

In India, touching someone’s feet is the highest form of respect, reserved for priests, gods and gurus, and revered elders such as parents and grandparents.

It is done because feet are considered unclean, and in recognition of the wisdom that life’s journey has bestowed upon the elder.

The one who touches those feet, the custom suggests, can benefit even from the dust upon them.

In return, the middle Gupta brother, at the helm of the family’s media operations, would smile beatifically, raise his hand, and murmur something to the underlings who grovelled before him.

Although the former staff members who told City Press this story were never close enough to hear what he said, Atul Gupta may have responded in the traditional way, by raising his hand and blessing the kneeler with the Sanskrit phrase, Ayushman bhava – “may you live long”.

The tranche of emails obtained by City Press last weekend appears to indicate that displays of reverence such as these are what the country’s unofficial first family expects to be shown.

They have revealed how intimately they are acquainted with policy minutiae and how their ministerial minions have briefed them on Cabinet meetings.

The emails also show that, while the Guptas’ money may not buy them love, it can buy a whole lot of bootlicking.

In one email, Salim Essa, the man referred to as the Guptas’ business partner, addresses the youngest brother Rajesh as “Sir”.

This appears odd for such an intimate working relationship through which the family netted R5.3bn in just one deal.

AmaBhungane revealed this week that the Guptas scored the billions from a 20% kickback off Transnet’s tender for 1 064 locomotives through a company called Tequesta, of which Essa is the sole director.

Essa also owns a 21.5% stake in Tegeta, the company that struck billions of rands in coal supply deals with Eskom after the Guptas got their Cabinet lackey, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, to travel with them to Switzerland to coerce Glencore into selling them the Optimum Coal Mine.

While we’re on that subject, let’s consider this gem from Mark Pamensky, a member of the Guptarised Eskom board who, at the time he served on it, also sat on the board of the Guptas’ mining firm Oakbay Resources and Exploration.

In an email to Atul Gupta in October 2015, he wrote: “Congratulations (Mazeltov) on a brilliant and well thought out, planned and strategised acquisition of the Optimum Group of companies.

"Well done and I’m proud of you all... Let me know when you ready to discuss the operational implementation. I’m truly proud to be part of this group. Enjoy the well deserved holiday (sic).”

There is abundant deference to the Gupta brothers in numerous other documents – even on the guest list for the family’s infamous 2013 nuptials that saw the guests land at Air Force Base Waterkloof.

Compilers of the guest list attached the Hindi honorific “ji” to all the first family’s names: Ajay ji, Atul ji, Tony ji.

The dim view the lofty Guptas have of their juniors is also apparent in the tasks to which the emails suggest they were assigned. How Sahara’s Ashu Chawla, Oakbay’s Nazeem Howa and Oakbay’s current boss Ronica Ragavan did any CEO-ing at all, is beyond comprehension.

The emails suggest they spent much of their time as souped-up secretaries.

A vast number of emails in the tranche are from Chawla’s address. In 2015 and 2016, the period during which most of the emails were sent, he spent an inordinate amount of time making travel arrangements.

There are first-class tickets to Dubai and Moscow for President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane.

There are notifications aplenty from concierges at the Oberoi Hotel in Dubai to ensure that another Gupta Cabinet choice, Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen, was whisked about in a Jaguar, and that their coterie of CEOs and board chairs of state-owned companies received their chauffer-driven BMW 7-series.

There are also strings of messages with a travel agent organising visas to Dubai for the Guptas, Duduzane and his wife, Shanice Stork.

Chawla also had to help plan the wedding of Duduzane – a multimillion rand affair at the five-star Zimbali Lodge in Ballito – for which he had to ensure the supplier was paid for a floating platform and ramp erected over the resort’s lower pool.

Ragavan also had to help with the arrangements, going so far as coming up with ideas for wedding favours. One candidate was a blend of exotic teas “containing the essence of the bride and groom”.

She also had to assist with the purchase of Duduzane’s R18m flat in Dubai’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa.

Howa, who in an email to both Atul and Rajesh Gupta addresses them as “Sirs”, spent a lot of time anticipating tough questions from newspapers, coaching ANC Youth League president Collen Maine on how to handle the media, and crafting Ben Ngubane’s first statement as chairperson of the Eskom Board, as well as an agonised response for Duduzane to a piece by Sunday Times columnist Peter Bruce.

Among the more humorous moments in the emails was an issue poor Chawla had to deal with.

It also provides an insight into the rigid caste-like hierarchical treatment the Guptas meted out to those they wished to use.

The president’s son, Duduzane, whom the family apparently used as a tool with which to leverage his father, was treated to the utmost luxury: hotel suites, first-class air travel and a five-star wedding.

The sons of Free State premier Ace Magashule, on the other hand, received treatment more in line with their father’s status.

Thato Magashule was also expected to leverage his father’s services for the Guptas as evidenced by an email sent to him by a Gupta family associate that read:

“Please get this printed on the official letterhead of the Office of the Premier and ask them to fax and email to the numbers provided in the letter once the premier has signed. Please mail me a copy as well.”

But while Duduzane was flown first class to Dubai for a three-week trip in December 2015, Thato and his brother Tshepiso flew economy.

And while they also got to stay in the Oberoi, their arrangements were a little less lavish, shown in an email addressed to Chawla from a Gupta associate: “Here is the guest details arriving in Dec.

"All these guest entire bills we have to pay so please arrange payments for all except Gift Magashule and Thatu Magashule. For them just bed and breakfast. Thanks (sic).”

Small wonder, then, that Rajesh “Tony” Gupta felt he could call security guards employed at the family’s sprawling Saxonwold compound “monkeys”.

Bizarrely, the security guard in question was a “Mr Zuma”, according to his supervisor’s email detailing the complaint.

“...I understand that G4S did not hear Mr Tony, when Mr Tony called them repeatedly, to inform them that a guest would be arriving, the incident aggravated Mr Tony so much that he called them monkeys (sic),” the supervisor wrote.

“Mr Zuma was the direct cause as I understand from Mr Henry Ndluvu, Mr Zuma’s attention was so totally focused on a discussion he was having with Mr Ndluvu and by this distracting Mr Ndluvu from his work, neither of them reacted when Mr Tony called them.

“Now the G4S night shift feels negative. But if Mr Zuma was concentrating on his duties, knowing there is a function going on, this would not have happened (sic).”

The deference that the Guptas believe they are owed extends to what they expect from the Cabinet ministers they placed in their positions.

One email reveals how Zwane’s CV was sent to Atul Gupta less than two months before President Zuma appointed him.

An executive from Bell Pottinger, the British public relations firm the Guptas hired to sanitise their image, also sent along this little nugget:

“Just reading through [DA MP] James Lorimer’s published article, we do need to reconcile a couple of issues in there:

"‘Then it is revealed that the new Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane, who has a history of what one could politely call facilitation of Gupta family interests, flies over to Switzerland with the Guptas to negotiate the Optimum sales deal.

"A Gupta factotum denies this happened, the Minister’s staff confirms it. The similarity to a walking duck is unmistakable.’

“Do we know how/why the minister’s staff are confirming something that we have denied?”

Those who once worked at The New Age relate that, when Atul Gupta was driven to the office, the driveway had to be cleared. And when he entered the building, with his glacial walk of power, everything stopped.

Thanks to this email leak we now have proof of the Guptas’ power and influence.

But we also cannot escape an image of Gupta-bought Cabinet members and board directors bowing before them, metaphorically touching their feet, benefiting from the dust of the country’s wealth those feet have accumulated.

And with their state capture project complete, the rest of South Africa is bowing too.

Read more on:    transnet  |  mosebenzi zwane  |  atul gupta  |  salim essa  |  gupta emails

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