A SUNNY PLACE FOR SHADY PEO­PLE

Gupta fam­ily looked into spend­ing mil­lions on trop­i­cal vil­las

Sunday Times - - FRONT PAGE - GRAEME HOSKEN [email protected]­me­dia.co.za

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

Pic­ture: THE LUX­URY TRAVEL EX­PERT

COM­POUND IN­TER­EST: A con­sul­tant e-mailed the Gup­tas about Soneva Jani in the Mal­dives

Pic­ture: LUXOTIC WORLD

TYCOON LA­GOON: The Gup­tas also looked into own­ing a villa on the main Sey­chelles is­land of Mahé

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