Who let Guptas land?

2013-05-01 00:00

OUTRAGE over the use by the Gupta family of the Waterkloof airforce base to land a private jet full of wedding guests went all the way to the top last night.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe issued a strongly worded statement: “We call on the SANDF to explain how this private aircraft landed at Waterkloof airforce base, a national key point.”

He warned, “Those who cannot account [for the decision] must be brought to book,” and added: “The [ANC], driven by the concern for the safety and sovereignty of South Africa, shall never allow a situation where our ports of entry and national key points are penetrated with impunity.”

His statement referred to “guests of a family hosting some wedding at Sun City”.

Earlier, the Defence Department and SA Revenue Service (SARS) said they would investigate how the Guptas’ chartered flight was allowed to use the military base.

The wedding of the niece of the super-rich, influential Gupta brothers, owners of Sahara Computers and the TNA media group, takes place at Sun City this week.

A chartered Jet Airways Airbus A330-200 with 189 people on board landed at Waterkloof early yesterday from New Delhi.

SARS was not informed, as it should have been, that a private chartered flight carrying foreigners had arrived in the country, spokesperson Adrian Lackay said.

Its customs division is meant to monitor incoming baggage and freight and inspect it with the SA Police Service.

By last night it was still not clear who had given permission for a civilian flight to use the military airfield, or for police vehicles to accompany convoys of guests to Sun City.

Only visiting heads of state are normally allowed to use military air bases.

The Airbus full of wedding guests was given a red carpet welcome. On board were reportedly six or seven Indian government ministers. However, wedding spokesperson Haranath Ghosh refused to confirm or deny the reports.

The most important guests were taken to Sun City in two smaller business jets and five helicopters; others went in a convoy of white luxury cars and 4x4s. Led by police vehicles with sirens blaring, the cars were decorated with the names of the bride and groom, Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia.

Ghosh said all the necessary permits had been obtained by the Indian High Commission, not the family.

International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela said the department had simply received the request; other departments took their own decisions.

Indian High Commissioner Virendra Gupta was not available to comment. His deputy said he would only be available on Monday.

Defence spokesperson Siphiwe Dlamini denied that the SANDF had given permission for the landing.

Sonwabo Mbananga, a spokesperson for the defence minister, told reporter James-Brent Styan last night: “The department did not give anyone permission for the Guptas’ aircraft to use the airport.”

The department had “no idea how the aircraft came to land at that airport”.

“But we stand by our facts. Let me say directly: no permission was given.” He indicated that the department would investigate.

Ghosh said Waterkloof was used because the runway at Lanseria airport was too short.

Aviation experts disputed this and said the runways at both Lanseria and Pilanesberg airports were long enough for the aircraft used by the Gupta party. Pilanesberg is near Sun City.

Any aircraft arriving from abroad with more than eight passengers or one ton of freight must apply to the Transport Department for a foreign operator permit.

By yesterday afternoon, no reply had been received from the Transport Department as to whether such a permit was issued.

SUN City was a hive of activity yesterday ahead of the wedding of Vega Gupta (23) and Aakash Jahajgarhia (24).

The couple officially wed tomorrow, but several traditional ceremonies are taking place beforehand at the Palace hotel in Sun City. The official wedding website states there will be six events, with the wedding itself taking place in the Superbowl. Each has its own dress code.

The first event took place yesterday afternoon.

Earlier, about nine convoys, each accompanied by police vehicles, streamed through the resort’s main gate.

Amid blue lights, white Range Rovers, BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes led by vehicles bearing the Sun City logo arrived in a steady stream.

Helicopters hovered overhead as some of the 500 guests invited to the celebrations arrived.

“This is the biggest wedding that’s ever been held here. I’ve never seen so many caterers’ trucks, not to mention the flowers,” said a security official who has worked at Sun City for more than 20 years.

She said resort staff had been told that there would be a heavy police presence throughout the weekend. “That’s strange. Normally there aren’t police here for other weddings,” she said.

She said the Guptas hade booked the Valley of the Waves and the Palace for their guests.

A hawker on the N4 highway between Pretoria and Brits said many convoys sped past all day yesterday.

“They didn’t even stop at the stop street, they raced by with blue lights flickering,” he said.

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