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Gupta: Evasion still the game

20 May 2013 - 02:52 By DENISE WILLIAMS
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. File photo
Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe. File photo

Cabinet ministers investigating the Guptagate scandal played a game of smoke-and-mirrors yesterday.

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe, who chairs the government's security cluster of ministries, pushed the blame for the landing of the Gupta private jet at Waterkloof Air Force Base on senior government officials and shielded President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet.

He said the air force base was not a national key point but a "strategic military base".

Though admitting that Zuma's name, and those of two ministers, had been invoked to secure landing permission for the wedding flight, Radebe reiterated that Zuma, who has close ties to the Gupta family, had not authorised the landing.

The Gupta flight was carrying more than 200 wedding guests from India.

"We are saying, without fear of contradiction, that no minister was involved in this matter; the president was not involved in this matter and, in any event, the president is not responsible for authorising the landing [at an air force base]," he said.

After a week of investigation as public anger intensified, the government yesterday said there was evidence that "undue influence, and abuse of higher office" was used to secure the landing of the Gupta jet. But the announcement failed to answer questions about whether the name-droppers would face prosecution.

Instead, Radebe said that the government should develop and implement a public service awareness campaign to discourage the "negative culture of name-dropping".

"The definition of acts of misconduct should be amended across government to include name-dropping as gross misconduct," Radebe said.

The Gupta family has in the past week come under attack by an outraged public, and even by the ANC, for invoking Zuma's name to gain privilege.

The report on the cabinet ministers' investigation is to be made public this week.

Sixteen state officials, including chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane, have been suspended from duty.

Radebe said the Gupta family had first sought permission from the Airports Company of SA to land their jet at OR Tambo International Airport and be met with an "extravagant reception", but this was turned down.

This was followed by an appeal to the Defence Ministry, which was also refused.

Next, according to Radebe, the Guptas tried the diplomatic route.

Radebe said that collusion between air force officers and the high commission "resulted in the irregular approval of the flight clearance".

"The breach in this instance was a consequence of manipulation by the responsible persons, who contemptuously manipulated the system to advance the wedding objectives at all costs," he said.

The admission that an Indian high commission official was involved in manipulating South African officials was made as Zuma was scheduled to fly to India.

Zuma is expected to demand High commissioner Gupta be recalled or, at the very least, reprimanded.

But the Indian government is demanding an apology from Zuma for implicating Virendra Gupta in the scandal. South Africa reportedly will not offer an apology.

Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane downplayed the brewing diplomatic row, saying that relations between the two countries were "solid".

DA MP David Maynier called the investigation into the scandal a "carefully crafted damage control exercise" designed to protect Zuma.

"It comes as no surprise that the investigation exonerated President Jacob Zuma and his cabinet."

Maynier said an independent investigation by the public protector was needed.

The secretary-general of the SA National Defence Union, Pikkie Greeff, said: "If you do not have permission to enter a military base as prescribed by the Defence Act and you enter, it is a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment. It does not matter if it is not a national key point.

"It is clear that they are trying to water down the severity of what happened," he said.