An email trail between the controversial Gupta family and their employees has blown the lid off how they have managed to do business with government, ingratiate themselves with senior officials, and go so far as to help move President Jacob Zuma and his family to Dubai.
The emails, obtained by City Press this week, also reveal how the Guptas seduced many senior government role players in their bid to capture departments and state-owned entities.
One of the most astonishing emails is from Gupta-owned Sahara Computers’ chief executive officer (CEO), Ashu Chawla, to Zuma’s son Duduzane. It contains a draft letter from the president to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and shows how close Zuma is to the Guptas.
In the letter, Zuma writes: “I fondly remember our meeting in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and the gracious hospitality and warmth extended to me during my visit. It is with this sentiment that I am happy to inform you that my family has decided to make the UAE a second home. It will be a great honour for me and my family to gain your patronage during our proposed residency in the UAE.”
Last night, Zuma strongly denied any plans to leave the country, saying through his spokesperson Bongani Nqulunga: “I have my home in Nkandla and I have no intention of living anywhere else. When I retire I will go home to Nkandla. This is a pure fabrication. Duduzane has never spoken to me about living in any other country. He has never shown me any letter. It’s shocking in the extreme. It’s absolute mischief aimed at sowing confusion”.
The emails also show how the Guptas seduced Cabinet ministers and CEOs of state-owned companies with opulent hotel stays and chauffeur-driven trips in luxury cars to their home in the exclusive Dubai suburb of Emirates Hills, where they bought a R445m mansion.
One was Eskom executive Matshela Koko, whom they flew to Dubai in January last year, putting him up at the posh Oberoi Hotel. Others included Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, new Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo, Denel chairperson Dan Mantsha, businessman and arms deal protagonist Fana Hlongwane, Duduzane Zuma and two of Free State Premier Ace Magashule’s sons, Thato and Tshepiso.
The Gupta’s grip
The emails are the latest indication of the grip that the Guptas have on the South African government and state-owned entities. They come in the week in which the SA Council of Churches and a collective of academics from top South African universities released reports showing the extent of state capture in South Africa. They come as pressure mounts on Zuma, inside and outside the ANC, in relation to his close association with the Guptas.
For Koko’s trip in 2016, an email, from employee Reya Pomar, confirms Koko’s reservation and the arrangement of transfers to the hotel from the airport. He also asks for billing instructions.
Chawla responds: “Sahara will pay the entire bill. Please do not ask any credit card guarantee from the guest at the time of check-in”. The hotel concierge informs Chawla: “Please note the chauffeur details mentioned below for the drop towards Emirates Hill (sic).”
At the time, Koko was Eskom’s group executive for power generation and the Guptas were busy buying the Optimum Coal Mine from Glencore.
The Oberoi Hotel was a favourite of the Guptas, and Duduzane Zuma also stayed there the month before Koko arrived.
The email trail also shows that, on the day Chawla booked Koko’s trip to Dubai, he also made Mantsha’s travel arrangements. An email shows that Mantsha, who swiftly axed Denel CEO Riaz Saloojee and replaced him before engineering the joint venture between Denel and Gupta-owned company VR Laser Asia, was booked to arrive by chauffeur from the Oberoi at the Guptas’ mansion at 07:00.
In the December of that year, the Guptas booked Zwane into the Oberoi and hired him a BMW 7-Series to chauffeur him to and from the Dubai airport and the Guptas’ house in Emirates Hills.
The emails also show that the Guptas appear to regard Zwane – the man they took with them to Switzerland to persuade Glencore boss Ivan Glasenberg to sell the Optimum mine to them – as their personal property.
An email from JP Arora – CEO of Gupta-owned JIC Mining Services – to the Gupta brothers’ nephew, Kamal Singhala, and Oakbay CEO Ronica Ragavan, is included in the tranche. In it, Arora invites them and their partners to a “private – by invitation only – dinner with … Zwane during the Mining Indaba 2016 in Cape Town”.
Another email from Chawla confirms the passenger manifest for the December 2015 trip on the Guptas’ private business jet, ZSOAK. The seven passengers, which included Zwane, and three crew members travelled to Zurich, Switzerland, via Delhi, India. Also on the plane were Rajesh Gupta, business partner Salim Essa and Maleatlana Joel Raphela, the deputy director-general of mineral regulations in the department of mineral resources.
The email tranche also indicates the level of involvement of the Guptas in the appointment of Zwane to his ministerial position. Included is an email to Gupta brother Tony on July 31 2015 – two months before he was appointed. The email was sent by Oupa Mokoena of Koena Consulting and Property Developers, which is situated in Zwane’s home town of Vrede, Free State, and reads: “Please find attached the CV of Mr Mosebenzi Zwane for your attention.”
The email tranche also contains one written in February 2016 from former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa in which he anticipates a question from the media about Zwane’s involvement in the landing of a chartered Boeing containing Gupta wedding guests at Air Force Base Waterkloof in 2013. In it, Howa writes to Duduzane Zuma and Tony Gupta: “I need some help on some of the answers. I think we should also prepare for a question of his role around the Waterkloof landing.” Zwane invited an Indian provincial minister to the Free State, which became the ruse by which the Guptas could land their wedding guests at Waterkloof.
Other revelations in the email trail include that:
– In March last year, British public relations firm Bell Pottinger, whom the Guptas had hired to clean up their image, had prepared a press release which would have implicated former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas in receiving bribes and other benefits such as flights upgrades and luxury hotel rooms from a South African businessman;
– The Guptas, Bell Pottinger and Black First Land First’s leader Andile Mgxitama cooperated to mount a campaign to discredit state capture allegations, including that the Gupta family had offered Jonas a R600 million bribe and former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor a ministerial position
– The Guptas lobbied Zuma to arrange that the June 2015 departure of their guest, for Mauritius, should be through Fireblade Aviation, a luxury terminal at OR Tambo International Airport, owned by the Oppenheimer family.
Another controversial deal involving a state-owned entity and the Gupta family also appears in the email tranche: that of the Denel and VR Laser Asia joint venture. An email from the department of public enterprises to minister Lynne Brown, also sent in December 2015, was of an internal confidential memorandum to which the Guptas appeared to have easy access.
The memorandum shows that public enterprises was uneasy about the joint venture for which Denel was trying to obtain permission from Brown or then finance minister Pravin Gordhan.
The memorandum says: “The two companies estimate that the new [company] will require a R100 million cash injection over a five-year period for operational costs.
“At face value, the proposal is attractive; however, there are numerous fundamental gaps that need to be clarified by Denel in terms of the Public Finance Management Act before comprehensive advice can be given to the minister with regards to the merits of the application.
“The department is not comfortable with the impression that project funding will be provided by the shareholders … It is also not clear whether the R100 million investment by VR Laser in the establishment of Denel Asia is a loan and what the repayment terms are.”