THE GUP­TAS ARE THE LORDS OF SA

The #Gup­taLeaks emails re­veal much more than corrupt deals and politi­cians. They show how the Gup­tas were treated like gods

CityPress - - News - NICKI GULES n icki.gules@city­press.co.za

When­ever Atul Gupta ar­rived at The New Age’s of­fices in Midrand, some of his staff from In­dia would bend and touch his feet. In In­dia, touch­ing some­one’s feet is the high­est form of re­spect, re­served for priests, gods and gu­rus, and revered elders such as par­ents and grand­par­ents. It is done be­cause feet are con­sid­ered un­clean, and in recog­ni­tion of the wis­dom that life’s jour­ney has be­stowed upon the elder. The one who touches those feet, the cus­tom sug­gests, can ben­e­fit even from the dust upon them.

In re­turn, the mid­dle Gupta brother, at the helm of the family’s me­dia op­er­a­tions, would smile be­at­if­i­cally, raise his hand, and mur­mur some­thing to the un­der­lings who grov­elled be­fore him.

Al­though the for­mer staff mem­bers who told City Press this story were never close enough to hear what he said, Atul Gupta may have re­sponded in the tra­di­tional way, by rais­ing his hand and bless­ing the kneeler with the San­skrit phrase, Ayush­man bhava – “may you live long”.

The tranche of emails ob­tained by City Press last weekend ap­pears to in­di­cate that dis­plays of rev­er­ence such as these are what the coun­try’s un­of­fi­cial first family ex­pects to be shown. They have re­vealed how in­ti­mately they are ac­quainted with pol­icy minu­tiae and how their min­is­te­rial min­ions have briefed them on Cab­i­net meet­ings.

The emails also show that, while the Gup­tas’ money may not buy them love, it can buy a whole lot of bootlick­ing.

In one email, Salim Essa, the man re­ferred to as the Gup­tas’ busi­ness part­ner, ad­dresses the youngest brother Ra­jesh as “Sir”. This ap­pears odd for such an in­ti­mate work­ing re­la­tion­ship through which the family net­ted R5.3 bil­lion in just one deal. AmaBhun­gane re­vealed this week that the Gup­tas scored the bil­lions from a 20% kick­back off Transnet’s ten­der for 1 064 lo­co­mo­tives through a com­pany called Te­questa, of which Essa is the sole di­rec­tor.

Essa also owns a 21.5% stake in Tegeta, the com­pany that struck bil­lions of rands in coal sup­ply deals with Eskom af­ter the Gup­tas got their Cab­i­net lackey, Min­eral Re­sources Min­is­ter Mosebenzi Zwane, to travel with them to Switzer­land to co­erce Glen­core into sell­ing them the Op­ti­mum Coal Mine.

While we’re on that sub­ject, let’s con­sider this gem from Mark Pa­men­sky, a mem­ber of the Gup­tarised Eskom board who, at the time he served on it, also sat on the board of the Gup­tas’ min­ing firm Oakbay Re­sources and Ex­plo­ration.

In an email to Atul Gupta in Oc­to­ber 2015, he wrote: “Con­grat­u­la­tions (Mazel­tov) on a bril­liant and well thought out, planned and strate­gised ac­qui­si­tion of the Op­ti­mum Group of com­pa­nies. Well done and I’m proud of you all... Let me know when you ready to dis­cuss the op­er­a­tional im­ple­men­ta­tion. I’m truly proud to be part of this group. En­joy the well de­served hol­i­day (sic).”

There is abun­dant def­er­ence to the Gupta brothers in nu­mer­ous other doc­u­ments – even on the guest list for the family’s in­fa­mous 2013 nup­tials that saw the guests land at Air Force Base Waterk­loof. Com­pil­ers of the guest list at­tached the Hindi hon­orific “ji” to all the first family’s names: Ajay ji, Atul ji, Tony ji.

The dim view the lofty Gup­tas have of their ju­niors is also ap­par­ent in the tasks to which the emails sug­gest they were as­signed. How Sa­hara’s Ashu Chawla, Oakbay’s Nazeem Howa and Oakbay’s cur­rent boss Ron­ica Ra­ga­van did any CEO-ing at all, is beyond com­pre­hen­sion. The emails sug­gest they spent much of their time as souped-up sec­re­taries.

A vast num­ber of emails in the tranche are from Chawla’s ad­dress. In 2015 and 2016, the pe­riod dur­ing which most of the emails were sent, he spent an in­or­di­nate amount of time mak­ing travel ar­range­ments. There are first-class tick­ets to Dubai and Moscow for Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s son Duduzane. There are no­ti­fi­ca­tions aplenty from concierges at the Oberoi Ho­tel in Dubai to en­sure that an­other Gupta Cab­i­net choice, Co­op­er­a­tive Gov­er­nance Min­is­ter Des van Rooyen, was whisked about in a Jaguar, and that their co­terie of CEOs and board chairs of state-owned com­pa­nies re­ceived their chauf­fer-driven BMW 7-series. There are also strings of mes­sages with a travel agent or­gan­is­ing visas to Dubai for the Gup­tas, Duduzane and his wife, Shan­ice Stork.

Chawla also had to help plan the wed­ding of Duduzane – a mul­ti­mil­lion rand af­fair at the five-star Zim­bali Lodge in Bal­lito – for which he had to en­sure the sup­plier was paid for a float­ing plat­form and ramp erected over the re­sort’s lower pool.

Ra­ga­van also had to help with the ar­range­ments, go­ing so far as com­ing up with ideas for wed­ding favours. One can­di­date was a blend of ex­otic teas “con­tain­ing the essence of the bride and groom”. She also had to as­sist with the pur­chase of Duduzane’s R18 mil­lion flat in Dubai’s tallest build­ing, the Burj Khal­ifa.

Howa, who in an email to both Atul and Ra­jesh Gupta ad­dresses them as “Sirs”, spent a lot of time an­tic­i­pat­ing tough ques­tions from news­pa­pers, coach­ing ANC Youth League pres­i­dent Collen Maine on how to han­dle the me­dia, and craft­ing Ben Ngubane’s first state­ment as chair­per­son of the Eskom Board, as well as an ag­o­nised re­sponse for Duduzane to a piece by Sun­day Times colum­nist Peter Bruce.

Among the more hu­mor­ous mo­ments in the emails was an is­sue poor Chawla had to deal with. It also pro­vides an in­sight into the rigid caste-like hi­er­ar­chi­cal treat­ment the Gup­tas meted out to those they wished to use.

The pres­i­dent’s son, Duduzane, whom the family ap­par­ently used as a tool with which to lever­age his fa­ther, was treated to the ut­most lux­ury: ho­tel suites, first-class air travel and a five-star wed­ding. The sons of Free State premier Ace Ma­gashule, on the other hand, re­ceived treat­ment more in line with their fa­ther’s sta­tus.

Thato Ma­gashule was also ex­pected to lever­age his fa­ther’s ser­vices for the Gup­tas as ev­i­denced by an email sent to him by a Gupta family as­so­ciate that read: “Please get this printed on the of­fi­cial let­ter­head of the Of­fice of the Premier and ask them to fax and email to the num­bers pro­vided in the let­ter once the premier has signed. Please mail me a copy as well.” But while Duduzane was flown first class to Dubai for a three-week trip in De­cem­ber 2015, Thato and his brother Tshep­iso flew econ­omy. And while they also got to stay in the Oberoi, their ar­range­ments were a lit­tle less lav­ish, shown in an email ad­dressed to Chawla from a Gupta as­so­ciate: “Here is the guest de­tails ar­riv­ing in Dec. All these guest en­tire bills we have to pay so please ar­range pay­ments for all ex­cept Gift Ma­gashule and Thatu Ma­gashule. For them just bed and break­fast. Thanks (sic).”

Small won­der, then, that Ra­jesh “Tony” Gupta felt he could call se­cu­rity guards em­ployed at the family’s sprawl­ing Sax­on­wold com­pound “mon­keys”. Bizarrely, the se­cu­rity guard in ques­tion was a “Mr Zuma”, ac­cord­ing to his su­per­vi­sor’s email de­tail­ing the com­plaint.

“...I un­der­stand that G4S did not hear Mr Tony, when Mr Tony called them re­peat­edly, to in­form them that a guest would be ar­riv­ing, the in­ci­dent ag­gra­vated Mr Tony so much that he called them mon­keys (sic),” the su­per­vi­sor wrote.

“Mr Zuma was the di­rect cause as I un­der­stand from Mr Henry Nd­luvu, Mr Zuma’s at­ten­tion was so to­tally fo­cused on a dis­cus­sion he was hav­ing with Mr Nd­luvu and by this dis­tract­ing Mr Nd­luvu from his work, nei­ther of them re­acted when Mr Tony called them.

“Now the G4S night shift feels neg­a­tive. But if Mr Zuma was con­cen­trat­ing on his du­ties, know­ing there is a func­tion go­ing on, this would not have hap­pened (sic).”

The def­er­ence that the Gup­tas be­lieve they are owed ex­tends to what they ex­pect from the Cab­i­net min­is­ters they placed in their po­si­tions. One email re­veals how Zwane’s CV was sent to Atul Gupta less than two months be­fore Pres­i­dent Zuma ap­pointed him.

An ex­ec­u­tive from Bell Pot­tinger, the Bri­tish pub­lic re­la­tions firm the Gup­tas hired to sani­tise their image, also sent along this lit­tle nugget:

“Just read­ing through [DA MP] James Lorimer’s published ar­ti­cle, we do need to rec­on­cile a cou­ple of is­sues in there: ‘Then it is re­vealed that the new Min­is­ter of Min­eral Re­sources, Mosebenzi Zwane, who has a history of what one could po­litely call fa­cil­i­ta­tion of Gupta family in­ter­ests, flies over to Switzer­land with the Gup­tas to ne­go­ti­ate the Op­ti­mum sales deal. A Gupta fac­to­tum de­nies this hap­pened, the Min­is­ter’s staff con­firms it. The sim­i­lar­ity to a walk­ing duck is un­mis­tak­able.’

“Do we know how/why the min­is­ter’s staff are con­firm­ing some­thing that we have de­nied?”

Those who once worked at The New Age re­late that, when Atul Gupta was driven to the of­fice, the drive­way had to be cleared. And when he en­tered the build­ing, with his glacial walk of power, ev­ery­thing stopped.

Thanks to this email leak we now have proof of the Gup­tas’ power and in­flu­ence. But we also can­not es­cape an image of Gupta-bought Cab­i­net mem­bers and board direc­tors bow­ing be­fore them, metaphor­i­cally touch­ing their feet, ben­e­fit­ing from the dust of the coun­try’s wealth those feet have ac­cu­mu­lated.

And with their state cap­ture project com­plete, the rest of South Africa is bow­ing too.

PHOTO: LAU­REN MUL­LI­GAN

NO MEAN FEET Atul Gupta

Burj Khal­ifa in Dubai, where Duduzane’s apart­ment was bought The wed­ding of Duduzane Zuma and Shan­ice Stork at the five-star Zim­bali Lodge in Bal­lito – a wed­ding that Oakbay act­ing CEO Ron­ica Ra­ga­van and Sa­hara CEO Ashu Chawla helped ar­range

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