S.Africa hears bid to ground graft-accused family’s jet
Canada went to court in South Africa Friday to ground a private jet used by the Gupta business family which has been accused of corruptly influencing former president Jacob Zuma.
Export Development Canada (EDC), the country’s state-run trade credit agency, alleges the controversial family’s businesses defaulted on a $41 million loan for the Bombardier Global 6000 which subsequently disappeared.
The Canadian-built aircraft’s public tracking device was deactivated on February 4, the court heard.
“As we sit today, my client cannot tell where the aircraft is,” EDC’s lawyer Alfred Cockrell told the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
EDC is now petitioning for the aircraft to be grounded, wherever it is located, until a bid to have the plane seized can be heard in a British court.
“All my clients want is for the aircraft to sit in a hangar somewhere so it can’t be flown to Dubai or India or somewhere,” said Cockrell.
EDC doesn’t “want to sell this aircraft in the interim period, they just want the aircraft to be put in a safe place where it can be stored and where it cannot be used by the Guptas.”
Cockrell added that grounding the aircraft would not be an inconvenience for the Guptas as they would be able to charter another jet or fly first class.
The Indian-born Guptas, one of South Africa’s wealthiest business families, are facing police investigations in the country over alleged corruption as well as their links to Zuma, who resigned as president following several graft scandals.
Cockrell said EDC feared “damage to the aircraft”, “reputational harm” and that “the aircraft may be forfeited because it is the proceeds of crime”.
A lawyer for the Guptas, Rafik Bhana, countered that EDC “came here in the hope that South African justice is so contaminated by the name Gupta that it is going render a judgement” in the Canadian agency’s favour.”
South Africa has launched several investigations into the family and Indian tax officials this week raided several properties belonging to the Gupta brothers in their former home town as part of a money laundering probe.
Last month, South African authorities also raided Gupta properties in Johannesburg as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged graft.
One of the three Gupta brothers, Ajay, was declared a “fugitive from justice” by police after he failed to respond to a summons.
Thirteen other people are facing charges linked to allegations that millions of dollars of public money meant for poor South African dairy farmers was embezzled by the Guptas.
They are also accused of receiving highly favourable government contracts during Zuma’s presidency.
Led by Atul Gupta, the family arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections.
After the day-long hearing, the court was considering it judgement.