Gupta naturalisation 'could amount to state capture'

The granting of early naturalisation to members of the Gupta family "could amount to state capture".

Several officials of the Department of Home Affairs have been criticised by the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs in its report on the early naturalisation of members of the Gupta family for the "preferential treatment" the family enjoyed at the department.

The committee found that former home affairs minister Malusi Gigaba's granting of early naturalisation to Ajay Gupta, his wife, Shivani, mother Angoori and sons Kamal Kant Singhala and Surya Kant Singhala was "incorrect", but did not recommend any sanction against him.

The committee recommended that Gupta lieutenant Ashu Chawla be criminally charged, the Gupta family's citizenship revoked, the relevant legislation tightened and that the report be referred to the Zondo commission into state capture as "significant irregularities" in the granting of the naturalisation "could amount to state capture".

The committee found that the former director general, Mkuseli Apleni, "failed in his oversight role as an accounting officer in terms of the Public Finance Management Act" as he "presided over the numerous administrative irregularities related to the Gupta family naturalisation, irregular deployment of Mr Christians, and permits or visas given to Gupta Company employees".

The Mr Christians referred to above is Gideon Christians, who the committee found "rendered preferential treatment and shared confidential state information with the Gupta family and associates beyond the legal and administrative requirements of his post" while he worked for the South African high commission in New Delhi. 

Donations scrutinised

"It would seem that Mr Christians may have assisted to facilitate the immigration of the Gupta family to South Africa. At the very least, it demonstrates improper influence by the Gupta family on the Department of Home Affairs," reads the report. 

The committee also "brought into question" the oversight role the former deputy director for civic services, Vusi Mkhize, and deputy director for immigration Jackie McKay due to their presiding over the numerous "administrative irregularities related to the Gupta family naturalisation".

The committee found there was an "irregular close relationship" between Major Kobese, director for appeals at the department, and former director of foreign office coordination, and Chawla.

"Mr Ashu Chawla wielded sufficient influence within the DHA (Department of Home Affairs) to, among others, receive preferential treatment such as expedited and incorrect visa approvals. To the extent that officials at the department such as Mr Christians relied on his influence to facilitate his appointment to New Delhi," the committee observed.

In the letter Chawla wrote to motivate why the Guptas should be granted early naturalisation, he stated that their company, Oakbay, had made several donations to 76 schools.

The committee contacted the schools listed. 

Criminal charges recommended

"It should be noted that the information received to date cannot be regarded as a representative sample, as the response rate was too low. However, a total of 5 out of the 11 schools (45.5%) indicated that they never received a donation from the Oakbay group," reads the committee's report.

"Criminal charges should be laid against Ashu Chawla and members of the Gupta family relating to false information submitted in their early naturalisation applications," the committee recommends.

The committee also recommends that the minister of home affairs should consider revoking the citizenship of the family members in question, because of the misrepresentation of "social contributions as well as the improper procedure being followed as far as the renunciation of Indian nationality". 

The committee also recommends that the minister should consider revoking Chawla's citizenship because of his "fraudulent and corrupt activities related to both early naturalisation as well as facilitating illegal visas for Indian nationals". 

The committee also recommends that the Citizenship Act and regulations allowing for exceptional circumstances for early naturalisation need to be amended to specify exactly how this discretion of the minister needs to be applied.

Parliament instructed the committee to conduct an investigation into the early naturalisation several members of the Gupta family. The naturalisation applications were made during Gigaba's first stint in the home affairs portfolio.

Gigaba's denials

The committee's report was tabled on Thursday and distributed on Monday. It is expected to go to the National Assembly for consideration and adoption this week.

In a press statement, DA MP Haniff Hoosen, who served on the committee, said his party was "incensed by the efforts of the ANC members on the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs to whitewash the role of former Minister of Home Affairs, Malusi Gigaba, in the unlawful approval of the Guptas' application for early naturalisation and to cover up his wrongdoing".

When Gigaba appeared before the committee's inquiry in October 2018, he said he visited members of the Gupta family for "social cohesion" reasons, but insisted that they had no sway over him.

"During my tenure, I, at no stage, assisted the Gupta family, or any other private interest group, to capture the state," Gigaba told the committee at a late-night meeting.

Despite the Constitutional Court upholding a ruling that he lied under oath, Gigaba is on the ANC's list for the National Assembly in the upcoming elections.

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