Guptagate makes world news

The exterior of the Gupta family compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

Johannesburg - The controversial Gupta family's private use of the Waterkloof Air Force Base where wedding guests were received, hit the international news wires.

Over 200 wedding guests from India with various decorative items landed in the country's most strategic air force base on Tuesday. 

The guests were filmed being escorted 200 kilometers away to Sun City's Palace of the Lost City with several police escorts and metro police officials on hand. 

India's Hindustan Times came out guns blazing this morning with a headline that read "Guptagate: Big fat Indian wedding at S. African air base" and " Wealthy Indians and bit of flash go hand-in-hand".

The publication reported the billionaire family as flaunting the widely perceived favouritism they enjoy from a relationship with President Jacob Zuma.

The four-day wedding event was labelled in the publication as "wedding of the year".

The daily newspaper also quoted the ANC as saying: " [The] ANC will never rest where there is any indication that all and sundry may be permitted to undermine the Republic, its citizens and its borders.

"We again make the call, even at this late hour, to the SANDF to explain how this private aircraft landed at Waterkloof Airforce Base."

Meanwhile The Indian Express headlined the Gupta saga as "Uproar in S. Africa as UP ministers land at air base to attend wedding".

According to the article, the arrivals section of the airport was transformed into a VIP lounge where drinks were served by a mobile bar service.

"Immigration officials were bussed in to stamp passports, although the normal customs rules were apparently waived", the publication reported.

In the London-based TheTelegraph newspaper, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was quoted saying: "As far as I know, no permission has been granted to a private citizen to use the base.

"It is a military base and a national key point used by government and its guests."

The report alleged that the Gupta brothers are rumoured to be so close to the president that they have been known to tell prospective ministers of their appointments before him – something the ANC has denied vehemently.

In a statement to yesterday, the Gupta family spokesman Haranath Gosh insisted that arrangements had been made between the Indian High Commission and the South African government.

He said: "The plane-landing issue just seems to be driven by desperate journalists keen to write without consideration of the facts.  The fact is that the family had nothing to do with the plane saga.

"Waterkloof Air Force base was used with full permission of the authorities to receive foreign dignitaries including some ministers. It is a conventional and common practice between countries in receiving officials from another state.

"Waterkloof was used as Lanseria airport could not accommodate the size of jet chartered by the family.  The permissions were applied for and granted to the Indian High Commission and not the family." 

However, the Presidency -- along with the Department of Defence and the Department of International Relations -- have all absolved themselves from the responsibility of allowing a privately chartered plane for a private event to land a national key point.

The Gupta's, who are from Saharanpur in northern India, are worth billions.

With ownership of computer company Sahara, the family have established themselves in South African business and built a close relationship with Zuma that started in 2003.

In December 2010 the Guptas launched a daily newspaper called The New Age. The family was heavily suspected of milking thier connection to Zuma to support the paper.

Government has remained a prominent advertising client for the publication.

eNCA has, meanwhile, dug deep into the history of the Gupta family dealings.

The family has continued defending its close relations with Zuma, saying they have extended themselves to prominent South African leaders, namely opposition leader Helen Zille and former president Thabo Mbeki.

They claim their decision to go into business with the president's son Duduzane Zuma by making him board member of several Gupta-owned companies, was based entirely on merit.

In what appears to be a quick damage control move, Zuma is reported to not be scheduled to attend the wedding but is heading to the Democratic Republic of the Congo instead.

Trade and Industries Minister Rob Davies and Public Enterprises Minister Malusi Gigaba were spotted seated at the front row at the wedding celebrations.

So far the only person who appears to have taken the rap is Chief of State Protocol Ambassador Bruce Koloane, who has been suspended pending a probe that will hopefully uncover the veil of secrecy surrounding the Gupta saga.


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