South Africa: Gigaba, Howa, Former Ministers Could Be Called for Gupta Citizenship Inquiry

Photo: Atul Gupta
Atul Gupta (file photo).

Parliamentarians received a thorough report on Tuesday on progress around the inquiry into the naturalisation of some members of the Gupta family.

They also heard recommendations on some of the individuals the committee should consider calling before it to fill in the gaps, including former ministers of home affairs Mangosuthu Buthelezi (1994-2004) and Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (2004-2009).

The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs received a draft report from Parliament's legal and research services team late on Tuesday afternoon on the early naturalisation of some Gupta family members.

It was compiled over the last two-and-a-half months, and included a breakdown of some of the information logged with the department on the controversial family since the mid-1990s.

It also noted what information was not available at the department and where the gaps were further probing in a full inquiry.

Some on the list of names recommended to be called to fill some of the gaps included:

- current minister Malusi Gigaba,- Buthelezi and Mapisa-Nqakula,- former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa,- former Sahara Computers CEO Ashu Chawla,- and former SA High Commission appointee in India Gideon Christians, among others.

Committee content adviser Adam Salmon gave a breakdown of the application processes for all three Gupta brothers and their families: Atul, Rajesh and Ajay.

Lapses, delays and expedited approval

Atul and Rajesh initially came to South Africa between 1993 and 1998 for short, periodic visits to seek business opportunities in the country.

Both had applied for work permits, then permanent residency and finally citizenship within the allowed timeframes over the decade, the latter being after at least five years of permanent residency.

However, discrepancies that would need to be accounted for by previous ministers would be the reason why there was a delay between the lapse in Rajesh's initial work visa, and the eventual conversion to a business permit 16 months later, and whether he was still in the country in the time in-between.

He also received permanent residency two months after his business permit was approved, the records showed.

Atul too received his permanent residency in October 1996 after only one year on two six-month visas, the report said.

Special condonation from Gigaba for Ajay's family

In the case of Ajay Gupta however, citizenship was applied for after spending eight years in the country, but was rejected because his wife, during the five years in question of her stay in the country, had spent more than the 90 days allowed abroad during her fifth and final year.

His family's approval therefore needed special condonation from Minister Malusi Gigaba, which was granted in May 2015.

Ajay ultimately rejected his application as he declined to denounce his Indian citizenship. His wife and two sons however became citizens.

According to the records, the circumstances under which special exception was applied for included that the Gupta brothers had invested more than R25bn in the country, employed close to 17 000 employees and made various donations to schools in the North West.

The research team tried to contact all 68 schools provided by the department. A total of 76 schools were said to have received donations, but the team only managed to receive responses from 11 schools in the two-month period.

Donations linked to competition to design Gupta wedding invitation

On closer inspection, the research team found that five of the 11 schools had not received the specified donations.

"It should be noted that the information received to date cannot be regarded as a representative sample, as the response rate was too low," Salmon told MPs.

"However, a total of five out of the 11 schools, 45%, indicated that they never received a donation from the Oakbay group."

Some of the schools had signed several acknowledgements of receipt, instead of just one, and they were signed by different individuals, which may have duplicated the recording of the donations.

Interestingly, "most of the schools link their donations to a competition to design wedding invitations for the Gupta wedding held in 2013," he said, to laughter and exclamations from MPs.

Questions still to be answered

The research team listed 20 questions that could be posed to a list of confirmed witnesses later in the inquiry process. The questions include:

- Why did it only take one month, from April 2015 to May 2015, to approve the request for early naturalisation on behalf of Ajay Gupta's family?

- On what permits did Atul and Rajesh Gupta initially enter South Africa between 1994 and 1998?

- Were there records of Indian workers brought into the country on tourism visas to work on construction sites and for ANN7?

Due to the late time of day, MPs agreed to digest the information and debate its contents on Wednesday morning.

Committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke congratulated the research team on its preliminary work, but wanted to stress that the report, its contents, and the suggested list of names, was only a draft and not final.

Source: News24

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