Wed, 14 Nov 2018
19
Cape Town

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba's expected questioning over the naturalisation of some members of the Gupta family didn't get out of the starting blocks as Parliament's committee opted to postpone to get more information from other people first.

Gigaba was all settled in for a grilling by members of the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs, who wanted to know why he used his special powers to grant early naturalisation to some of the Guptas.

With a slide presentation on the naturalisation process already primed on three screens, committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke adjourned indefinitely after a post-dinner brief discussion with the committee.

The reason for the adjournment was because the committee did not have enough time to question former director general Mkuseli Apleni who had flown in after taking a day off from his new job at Discovery Bank.

Apleni had bumped his flight back to Johannesburg to an hour later, but still ran out of time and rushed out for the airport before MPs were finished with him.

Chauke said that they would adjourn because they needed more information from Apleni and they still needed to get Ashu Chawla back from India, by summons if necessary, to answer questions on alleged improprieties in giving Ajay Gupta's mother Angoori, and sons Kamal and Surya, early naturalisation.

The application was made by Chawla and motivated with claims that Gupta holding company Oakbay Investments had put a lot into social investment, created 7 000 jobs, and put R25bn into various business entities in South Africa.

Apleni recommended it and Gigaba granted it. However, there are allegations that some processes were flouted, such as checking the date on which the Gupta applicants had renounced their Indian citizenship to get their South African passports.

Also read: 'Talk to my lawyer' - Gupta 'fixer' Chawla to parliamentary committee

Wednesday's inquiry revealed that the claims of investments in schools were allegedly overstated and on Thursday MPs wanted to know why none of the Guptas' claims were verified by the department.

Of extreme concern to the chairperson was the revelation that a top home affairs official Gideon Christians admitted sending an email containing micro details of South African embassy officials around the world to Chawla. These included school fees and utility costs.

As the first secretary of immigration and civic affairs at the South African consulate in New Delhi, Christians met Chawla in 2008 after the mission decided to make things easier for people wanting to invest in South Africa.

After a long, drawn-out session of questions, it was submitted that he was not sent to a post out of budget, but had, in fact, replaced a "problematic" official who was reposted and sent to Munich.

He said the Guptas were regarded as "captains of industry" and so they were among the business people the South African consulate assisted, particularly when there were bottlenecks with visas, in the interests of facilitating investment into South Africa.

Christians said he and Chawla were friends, but not to the extent that Chawla would go over for a braai with his family, and did not believe his email contacts with Chawla were excessive.

He could not explain why he sent the details of foreign mission staff to Chawla, and Chauke has resolved to report this to the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete for advice on what to do about the alleged security breach.

"This is tantamount to treason," said Chauke.

The committee was on the second day of the second phase of a probe into the administrative processes involved in the issuing of visas to India-based employees seconded to South Africa for television channel ANN7, and the naturalisation of members of the Gupta families. It was expected to have continued on Friday.

Christians confirmed a claim in the GuptaLeaks emails relating to his involvement in a possible coal deal with the Guptas.

He said he met somebody who was interested in the coal business and thought of the Guptas' controversial Tegeta enterprise.

He told Chawla who advised that he meet the possible entrepreneur for coffee with one of the Gupta brothers, whose name he could not remember.

Also read: Home Affairs immigration head denies knowledge of Gupta visa 'corruption'

Fed up with the umbrella term "Gupta brothers" Chauke made his assistant go and show Christians pictures of the Gupta brothers on a cellphone to find out which one it was. Later a big print out of their faces was produced, and shown to Christians and it was established that he had coffee with Rajesh Gupta during the coal talks.

He could not remember who paid for the coffee, but said he never benefited anything from the Guptas.

He also denied getting Mini Coopers to sell or as a gift, as claimed by the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) during Wednesday's presentation in Parliament.

He said he never even drove a Mini Cooper before and quipped: "I am too tall for them anyway".

He conceded that he would have received a 2.5% cut if the coal deal was successful. Asked if he got his cut, he said that if he did "I wouldn't be sitting here".

He also acknowledged sending the Guptas his CV in a moment of frustration when he was sent back to a refugee office in Cape Town and was surrounded by files before being reposted to India.

He also said the four Dubai visas supposedly obtained for him by Chawla, as raised by OUTA, were actually for his brother who had asked if he knew of anybody could help him with a visa.

His brother was travelling via Dubai and had contacted him for advice on how to get a visa. He suggested that Chawla might be able to help and left his brother to communicate with Chawla.

"I do not think that I had an improper relationship with Mr Chawla," said Christians.

Earlier, another home affairs official Major Kobese admitted that it was indeed his email address sent to Chawla soliciting support for a musical item on ANN7, but he said it was not him who sent the email, but his brother, coincidentally also named Malusi, who used his email address.

He said that he was not a musician at all, but he had heard a "wow" young singer at a family get together and was so impressed he took it on himself to help promote the singer.

He set up an organisation in the hope of promoting the singer but was told by the Department of Home Affairs he could not do this. So Malusi Kobese took over the project, using his email address because that was how the promotion company's emails were set up.

He added that coincidentally, his brother had an existing business relationship with Chawla, but he knew nothing about it and did not benefit at all from Chawla or the Guptas.

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