Gupta family ‘could be investigated’

2013-05-04 09:25

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 has said.

A committee of directors-general (DGs) 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 air force 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 yesterday.

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 DA, union federation Cosatu, the ANC, the IFP, and the SA Communist Party.

The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) 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 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 coordinated 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 air force 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 (Sars) 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 yesterday.

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

» SAPS 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 (SAPS) vehicle is still under investigation,” he added.

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 attache of the Indian High Commission sent a request for aircraft clearance directly to the air force command unit within the SANDF on April 4,” 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.

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