I did not give anyone instructions to allow Gupta wedding landing - former transport minister

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Ben Martins. (Netwerk24)
Ben Martins. (Netwerk24)

The former transport minister, Ben Martins, has told the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture that at, at no stage, did he give anyone instructions to allow the Guptas' aircraft to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base in 2013.

"The Ministry of Transport ... does not have authority over Waterkloof air base. It falls under the Department of Defence and Military Veterans," he told inquiry chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, during his testimony on Tuesday.

In 2013, a private plane carrying about 200 guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia was allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base, and blue light brigades whisked the guests off to Sun City.

Several ministers and political figures attended the wedding.

But Martins told Zondo that he did not give anyone instructions to allow the landing. He also said he did not receive any instructions from former president Jacob Zuma to assist the Guptas.

Asked by evidence leader, advocate Thandi Norman, SC, when he first became aware that the Gupta family wanted to land their aircraft at Waterkloof, Martins said: "The first time I was aware, in regard to the Waterkloof landing, was when an official of the air traffic navigation services called me to say that the plane had entered South African airspace without a requisite permit."

He said he read in the newspapers about the plane landing at the airbase.

"I was not formally informed," he said.

"That was the first and only time that I recall a plane being reported in that nature." 

Martins said although he received an invitation to the wedding, the committee of the security cluster had met and advised ministers against attending the wedding.

Martins also told the commission about a meeting he had at OR Tambo Airport in February 2013, just before the wedding. 

He said Tony Gupta, Bruce Koloane, who was the chief of state protocol at the Department of International Relations and Co-operation (Dirco), acting CEO of ACSA Bongani Maseko were all present at the meeting at the InterContinental Hotel near the airport. 

Martins said one of the things discussed at the meeting was the welcoming ceremony that the Guptas wanted to have on the tarmac as guests disembarked.

He said he explained during the meeting that the tarmac was the jurisdiction of The Department of Home Affairs.

ALSO READ: Investigation into Gupta Waterkloof landing was thorough and complete - Madonsela

"In my understanding, OR Tambo airport, being such a busy airport, it would not be possible and it would not be feasible to have a welcoming ceremony, and I even mentioned that I was not aware of anybody else having such an opportunity…"

"The decision was that we could not grant that permission. Technically I did not have the authority to do so."

Asked what Gupta's reaction was, Martins quoted him as saying: "Are you really denying the guests of the president and the friends of the president the opportunity to have this welcoming ceremony there?"

Martins said he told them irrespective of whose friends or guests it was, permission could not be granted.

He said Gupta asked him again, following the meeting at the airport, whether the welcoming ceremony could be accommodated.

But he advised him that it might be possible for them to seek permission to land at Pilanesberg or Lanseria airport.

"I surmised that the intention to have the welcoming reception at the tarmac would project the importance of the visitors arriving and the power and influence of the visitors receiving them," he said.

Martins said in one of his motivations, Gupta said four or five ministers from India would be arriving in that plane and some of the ministers and people in that plane were friends of Zuma.

"No one approached me with regards to the Waterkloof issue," Martins reiterated.

The #GuptaLeaks detailed the intricacies of how R30m from the provincial government-funded Estina dairy project in the Free State was laundered through a series of bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates to pay for the wedding, News24 previously reported.

Eight people, including the bride's brother, Varun Gupta, were charged in relation to the Estina case last year, but the charges were provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in November.

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