Guptas ordered to return controversial aircraft within 15 days

The Gupta family’s Bombardier Global Express 6000. (Adrian Munro, Netwerk24)
The Gupta family’s Bombardier Global Express 6000. (Adrian Munro, Netwerk24)

Johannesburg – The Gupta family was ordered by the South Gauteng High Court on Monday to deliver a Bombadier aircraft to Lanseria International Airport within 15 calendar days.

Export Development Canada (EDC) and Stoneriver approached the court earlier this month in an urgent application to ask the court to ground the aircraft.

The Guptas had a lease agreement with EDC and Stoneriver for the Bombadier Global 6000 aircraft, but are currently engaged in a legal dispute in the courts in the UK over the lease agreement.

The applicants asked the court in South Africa to ground the plane until a final order was made and to prevent its movement while the tracking system was switched off.

READ: Court orders Guptas' jet to be grounded

High Court Judge Fayeeza Kathree-Setiloane ordered the plane to be delivered to Lanseria airport along with all appliances, components and necessary equipment within 15 days.

Kathree-Setiloane also interdicted and restrained the Guptas and their businesses from possessing, disposing of or using the plane except for the purposes of delivering it to Lanseria.

Guptas ordered to pay costs

She said should the Guptas fail to comply with the court order and not return the aircraft, its registration could be cancelled with immediate effect.

They were also ordered to pay the costs of the application and the costs of attorneys.

Kathree-Setiloane said there was a risk that the Canadian bank could suffer a loss if the aircraft was not grounded.

"This begs the question: Why would the Gupta respondents not want anyone to track the whereabouts of the aircraft? This makes for the pungent possibility that this was done so that the aircraft can be used for unlawful purposes," she said.

"Although the Gupta respondents dismiss this as 'baseless speculation that [does] not warrant a response' they conspicuously do not say that the aircraft is not being used for unlawful purposes and they do not give an undertaking that the aircraft will not be used for unlawful purposes in the future."

She found there was "a clear risk" of the aircraft being seized by the National Prosecuting Authority's Asset Forfeiture Unit to recover money from the Guptas.

Reputational harm

"Significantly, in their answering affidavit, the Gupta respondents say that "the fact that the facility and lease agreements may have been concluded at the same time [as the Estina dairy project] and that monies may have been paid to the applicants thereafter is not itself proof that the respondents were paid using the proceeds of crime," Kathree-Setiloane said.

"However, the Gupta respondents do not make a positive allegation that the payments made to Stoneriver under the lease agreement did not derive from the proceeds of crime."

ALSO READ: Gupta properties seized, brothers summoned by Indian tax officials - reports

Kathree-Setiloane said there was a risk that EDC and Stoneriver could suffer reputational harm should they remain linked with the Guptas.

"If interim relief is not granted, the applicants will suffer reputational harm by virtue of being associated with the Gupta respondents through their continued use of the aircraft."

"Since the Gupta respondents are all incolae (parties) of this Court, contempt of court proceedings could be instituted if any of them fail to adhere to the order. Such proceedings could be launched against the directors of Westdawn and Oakbay and against Mr and Mrs Gupta personally," Kathree-Setiloane said.

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