Gupta scandal: Partners in greed left a messy trail of sleaze

18 February 2018 - 00:00 By SABELO SKITI
Varun Gupta , who was arrested in connection with the Vrede dairy farm scheme this week, at the Shiva uranium mine in North West in 2015. Picture: Kevin Sutherland
Varun Gupta , who was arrested in connection with the Vrede dairy farm scheme this week, at the Shiva uranium mine in North West in 2015. Picture: Kevin Sutherland

A president has fallen. His son is being sought by police. One of the three brothers who systematically robbed South Africa of billions of rands is officially a fugitive.

It's been a busy week for South Africa, and another nail has been hammered into the coffin of the 15-year friendship between former president Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, known as Tony.

Just a day after Zuma's comrades in the ANC announced they were recalling him, Hawks investigators pounced on the Guptas' R52-million compound in Saxonwold.

A relative, Varun Gupta, was arrested along with other close associates, and investigators spent hours searching the property. Law enforcement officers also raided several other properties, including the offices of Gupta company Oakbay Investments.

The arrests relate to the Vrede dairy farm project through which millions of rands in public funds were funnelled to the Gupta family.

The sudden action seemed slightly surreal, despite a heightened sense of anticipation following the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president in December.

Up until then, Zuma's grip on the state's security cluster, from intelligence services to specialist crime-fighting units and the NPA, had been absolute and geared to protecting the Guptas.

Anecdotes and public records reflect that Zuma's relationship with the Guptas, which they claim started in 2003, strengthened after he was fired as deputy president by then president Thabo Mbeki in 2005.

Zuma, with a big family to look after, was jobless and financially compromised. But he had ambitions of ascending to the ANC's top position at the elective conference in 2007.

He also represented hope to many business people who wanted to penetrate the ring of steel around state procurement created by the Mbeki administration.

The Gupta clan, who were one among many funding Zuma's family and his presidential ambitions, took a special interest in his twin children, Duduzane and Duduzile.

These two were, back then, the biggest beneficiaries of the Guptas, who launched their commercial ambitions in South Africa with Sahara Computers.

Besides directorships, the young Zumas received shares in the Guptas' ever-growing empire of media, minerals and property interests.

A year after Zuma became president, his two children were already working alongside the Guptas when the Sishen mine BEE deal with ArcelorMittal - which would have netted Duduzane a R1-billion stake - collapsed in 2011.

One question raised at the time was how the Guptas' company, Imperial Crown Trading, had obtained 21.4% of Kumba Iron Ore's Sishen operations. The saga raised concern about the relationship between Zuma and the Guptas.

The Guptas were so embedded that when Duduzane crashed his Porsche and killed a taxi passenger in Sandton in 2014, he called Tony immediately.

Other Duduzane messes the Guptas helped to clean up included a maintenance dispute with a former lover.

This blueprint for capture and patronage would be repeated many times with other senior ANC and government leaders including Jessie Duarte, Ace Magashule, Mosebenzi Zwane and Lynne Brown. Their web encircled Brian Molefe and Anoj Singh from Eskom, as well as Daniel Mantsha from Denel.

The Guptas' control of the state was nearly absolute, from getting business associates onto boards of state-owned enterprises to winning tenders worth billions of rands via confined processes and effectively running the revenue service.

Susan Booysen, politics professor at the University of the Witwatersrand, called state capture "betrayal of the worst order".

"This was the theft of sorely needed public resources... There is nothing worse a politician and bureaucrat in charge of resources could do."

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