A SUNNY PLACE FOR SHADY PEOPLE
Gupta family looked into spending millions on tropical villas
Maldives? Seychelles? Even dodgy tycoons need some fun in the sun
CAPTURING a state can be hard work. All those politicians to keep happy, secret late-night meetings, money trails to hide.
So now and again, even a shady magnate needs to relax.
A tranche of leaked e-mails show that when they’re not entertaining ministers in Saxonwold, the Guptas enjoy a bit of surf and turf on a tropical island.
The family are such fans of sandy beaches and palm trees that they even looked into buying an island in the Maldives and a villa in the Seychelles that boasted the Abu Dhabi royal family as neighbours.
Both the Maldives and the Seychelles are tax havens.
The proposed purchases, which seem to have been at an advanced stage, ranged between $5-million (R64-million) and $15-million for the Maldives, depending on whether a villa or island was bought, and $11-million for the Seychelles villa.
The Maldives villas and islands the Guptas were interested in are owned by the Soneva group, while the Seychelles villa is owned by the Four Seasons Resort group.
The Gupta’s family lawyer, Gert van der Merwe, this week declined to comment when asked if the purchases had been made.
“I don’t know. My clients are abroad until next week in India,” he said.
E-mails seen by the Sunday Times show that the Gupta family visited the Maldives en route to Dubai in December 2015. Ajay Gupta and his mother, Angoori Gupta, spent at least three days in the Maldives, leaving on January 2 2016.
Six weeks later, on February 16, Atul Gupta forwarded an e-mail to Ajay’s wife, Shivani, and his brother Tony, titled “Maldives presentation”.
The e-mail had been sent by a property consultant named Lilliana Bassi.
On the same day the family’s estate agent, Gregory Lewis, who is based in Abu Dhabi, e-mailed the family about the Seychelles villa.
In his e-mail to Tony, Lewis writes: “Following on from our chat please find attached details of a villa we have for sale in the Seychelles. As I mentioned, the immediate neighbours are the AD royal family who visit apit’s proximately 4/5 times a year.
The family include “Sheik Khalifa . . . along with Sheik Mohammad the ruler of Dubai, Qatari minister and I’m told Sheikh Ahmed Bin Saeed Al Maktoum (Chairman and Chief Executive Emirates Airline & Group).
“We are seeing a strong movement from the Emiratis to buy land and property there given only 4 hours from Dubai with no time difference, tax free . . . and the fact the royals use it as a holiday retreat.”
He says he is heading up a “small scheme” currently under construction of 33 one- to fourbedroom apartments ranging between $445 000 and $2.6-million.
“The developers are selling the units individually but happy to discuss bulk purchases or the development in its entirety at a discount.”
Lewis also tells Tony that the owner of a particular unit the family seem to be interested in wants to sell his property quickly and suggests they make a starting offer of $11-million.
The villas, according to Lewis, overlook the exclusive Petite Anse beach on the Seychelles main island of Mahé.
The property, according to the brochure Lewis sent, is fitted with over $2-million worth of entertainment systems and technology and has three swimming pools.
In her e-mail to Atul Gupta, Bassi writes that she wants to share a “unique opportunity” in the Maldives with the Guptas.
“Please find attached a presentation. There are villas for sale, from $5Mio [an abbreviation for million] up to $15Mio. If this might be of interest I would be delighted to assist you.”
The villas are on Soneva Jani — one of several luxury resort islands owned by the Soneva group. On its website the Soneva group describes one of Jani’s highlights as a 5.6km private lagoon, “an awe-inspiring azure spectacle that inspires a sense of calm”.
Knight Frank’s Samantha Arnell, who has taken over from Lewis, declined to comment on their clients’ purchases.
“This would be a huge confidentiality breach,” she said.
Bassi could not be reached for comment at the time of going to press.
The Guptas own several properties in South Africa, including the massive Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg.
Last week the Sunday Times reported that the Guptas were splashing out on a new mansion in Cape Town.
They plan to renovate a Constantia home that used to belong to Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
An azure spectacle that inspires a sense of calm
COMPOUND INTEREST: A consultant e-mailed the Guptas about Soneva Jani in the Maldives
TYCOON LAGOON: The Guptas also looked into owning a villa on the main Seychelles island of Mahé