Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
25 Aug 2018
6:00 am

Tales from inside the Gupta empire ‘mafia operation’

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

'I was virtually running for my life. If I had not gone to the media, I am not sure I would have survived. The media at that time saved my life.'

Ajay and Atul Gupta. File photo

A former Gupta employee based in India – who compared the family’s empire to a mafia operation – has volunteered to testify against his erstwhile bosses at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.

Rajesh Sundaram, who was part of the founding editorial team at television station ANN7 in 2013, said he witnessed several occasions where the billionaires demonstrated considerable influence over former president Jacob Zuma and his Cabinet.

Reminiscing on his last few weeks in South Africa, in 2013, Sundaram told The Citizen he remembered the Gupta brothers as a feared pair who used Machiavellian scare tactics to make sure their employees toed the line at the television station.

“I remember vividly those last few days spent there, virtually running for my life. I had the Guptas’ bodyguards chasing me, I had my hotel room burgled, my money stolen and there were attempts to steal my passport. If I had not gone to the media, I am not sure I would have survived. The media at that time saved my life,” he said.

“In my 19 years of experience as a journalist, I had never worked for a newsroom like that one – it was like working for the mafia.

“The threats and surveillance that was happening there, I feared for my own life and that of my family. They had access to everything … I have reason to believe that we were being tapped and even the house I lived in at the time was bugged as well, so I was definitely working for the mafia.”

Some of the details in his affidavit are also contained in the book he authored, Indentured, which he published this year.

In the affidavit, he details how Ajay and Atul Gupta held regular meetings with Zuma, who gave input on how ANN7 was to be operated in the months leading up to its first broadcast.

Sundaram also claims the Gupta brothers would go to Zuma for help with their other business ventures and often complained when state entities were not cooperating with them.

“The second part of these meetings were about businesses other than the proposed television project. I was asked to move out of the room during this time.

“But from my conversations with Atul Gupta, Nazeem Howa and Ajay Gupta, it was clear this time was used to seek Zuma’s help to overcome challenges in their other businesses.”

The Guptas also allegedly complained to Zuma about ministers who did not want to attend the infamous TNA Breakfast Briefings aired by the SABC and allegedly heavily funded through state coffers from various ministries and departments.

Sundaram told The Citizen some of these dignitaries would be forced to attend the briefings after the Guptas complained to Zuma. The brothers also held closed meetings with these officials before each broadcast.

“Whenever these breakfasts were held, there would be a holding area where the dignitaries would first meet in private with Ajay Gupta and Howa. They would lock themselves in there for at least half an hour.”

Sundaram claims Howa, the Gupta brothers’ business associate in several ventures, informed him that these briefings were “insanely profitable” for them.


Guptas ‘living the high life’

As details of the Gupta family’s reign in South Africa unravels in the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, Ajay and Atul Gupta are living as opulently as ever, often in the limelight in their home country of India, according to a source close to the family.

While the source claims the brothers are being pursued by Indian authorities on a number of cases in the country involving income tax, the pair have managed to dodge prosecution and are often seen jetting between the Emirates, their home town Saharampur and New Delhi.

“In Delhi, they stay at the Moria hotel which is one of the most expensive ones in the country and they don’t really seem too bothered about any threat of extradition or anything. They are not in hiding.”

The two have also apparently conducted several interviews with local newspapers in the country.

– Citizen reporter

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