It is not first time the Guptas have found themselves on the wrong side of the law for trying to skip immigration queues. And as with the allegations that surfaced this week, they showed a penchant for diplomatic passports in Lesotho, which resulted in Prime Minister Phakalitha Mosisili kicking them out.
#GuptaEmails exposed a special visa dispensation for the Gupta employees and associates. They were allegedly given preferential treatment at the South African embassy in New Delhi and others.
The allegations were corroborated by a former Oakbay employee. He told 702 it was a norm for Indian nationals to arrive at the embassy and be issued with work permits and visas expeditiously.
Denel board member and finance minister Malusi Gigaba’s adviser, Thamsanqa Msomi, has also been identified as a “fixer” who arranged for the Saxonwold-based family to acquire passports.
#GuptaEmails paint a disturbing picture of how Msomi received emails from Gupta family associates for assistance. Msomi does not deny the allegations, and told Times Media his actions were not “out of the ordinary”.
Msomi was Gigaba’s chief-of-staff during his tenure as public enterprises minister. He later became his special legal adviser after he was appointed the home affairs minister.
Meanwhile in Lesotho, former prime minister Tom Thabane appointed Atul Gupta and Essa Omar Aziz as his special advisers tasked with marketing Lesotho in the Middle East.
The pair mysteriously obtained diplomatic passports in August 2014. This appears to be during the height of ‘state capture’ transactions at state-owned entities. It is not clear what they used them for.
Among a bouquet of privileges holders of diplomatic passports enjoy include separate immigration queues and baggage not being checked for checking or searched. South African diplomatic passport holders, for instance, are received at the department of international relations and cooperation (Dirco) protocol VIP longues at the country’s main airports.
When snap elections were held in the tiny country completely landlocked by South Africa and a new coalition government came into power, things came undone at the seams for the former advisers.
Mosisili’s spokesperson, Motumi Ralejoe, told City Press “the prime minister said he did not need them as advisers. The home affairs minister was left with no option but to tell them their services are no longer needed”, and their diplomatic passports were revoked.
‘They are a controversial family in your country. The prime minister didn’t want to get involved.’
Thabane told the Basotho parliament he “was introduced to Gupta family by South African president”. The minister of home affairs, Lekhetho Rakuoane, later told parliament there would be an investigation into how the passports were “corruptly” issued.
“They are a controversial family in your country. The prime minister didn’t want to get involved,” Ralejoe told the publication, and explained he was not sure if they were paid as advisers.
As it has happened here, there was a clandestine group calling itself ‘friends of the Guptas’ that used media and political gatherings to argue that the decision was ill-advised and must be reviewed.
This rubbed one Dr Fako Johnson Likoti the wrong way. Likoti, the economic and political affairs adviser to prime minister Mosisili, who asked in the local media how the Guptas were granted diplomatic passports “even though they have never held any position of authority apart from the fact that they are now celebrities in South Africa for flashing their money”.
“They have the audacity to accuse the prime minister of taking away passports from unscrupulous characters like the Guptas,” Likoti shot back, and revealed that Essa Omar Aziz was Salim Essa.
“It was unfortunate that the last coalition government collapsed so quickly, and this denied us […] something like Nkandla in Lesotho, of which the friends would have rejoiced to have,” he said.
“I wonder which country can give people of such calibre diplomatic passports. In other words, the friends of Guptas regard Lesotho and Basotho as a banana republic where the state is up for sale. Their [friends of the Guptas] pain will heal with time, and they will come to understand that some things belong to Basotho, not foreigners,” he wrote.
Basotho are going to polls today to elect new leaders.