Guptas wanted tarmac reception at OR Tambo airport – ex-minister
Former transport minister Ben Martins testified the request was denied, and the Gupta wedding plane landed at Waterkloof base without his knowledge.
FILE PICTURE: Ben Martins. Picture: Refilwe Modise.
The Gupta family demanded that the 200 Indian guests to their infamous 2013 wedding be welcomed with a formal tarmac reception, the likes of which are usually reserved for visiting heads of state, when they landed at the OR Tambo International Airport.
The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, chaired by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, heard today how the family allegedly used their close ties to former president Jacob Zuma to try to get their way when the chartered Jet Airways aircraft arrived with its passengers, destined for the extravagant Sun City wedding.
The plane, which did not have the required foreign operator permit when it made an illegal touchdown at Air Force Base Waterkloof, was earlier denied permission to land at the OR Tambo International Airport, according to evidence of Ben Martins.
Martins, who served as transport minister in the Zuma administration from 2012 to 2013, told Zondo of a meeting held at the Intercontinental Hotel – attended by Tony Gupta, Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) acting chief executive Bongani Maseko and former chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane – a month before the Indian guests’ April 30, 2013 arrival in SA.
At the meeting the Guptas requested an official reception on the OR Tambo tarmac. The request, said Martins, was denied on the basis that laws governing tarmac reception fell under the jurisdiction of the department of home affairs.
Said Martins: “I explained to [Tony Gupta] that despite OR Tambo being a busy airport, the decision to grant the permission technically rested with home affairs.
“Tony said he found it strange that we were denying permission to the guests and friends of the president.
“He said about five Indian cabinet ministers were to be on board the plane and were to arrive in the country as friends of Mr Zuma.”
Asked by Zondo about why it was important for the Gupta guests to be accorded a reception on the OR Tambo Airport tarmac, Martins responded: “The intention was to project an image which showed the importance of the visitors and the power the Gupta family wielded in the highest echelons of government.”
He said Maseko advised the Guptas to land the aircraft at Lanseria or Pilanesberg airports.
“I was later made aware by an ATNS [Air Traffic Navigation Services] official that a plane had landed in our airspace without a requisite permission.
“It was the first time I learnt of the Gupta landing at the Waterkloof Air Force Base, with no one having approached me. I read about the rest in the newspapers,” said Martins.
Under cross-examination by Zondo, Martins said he maintained “a professional relationship” with the Guptas and denied facilitating any business deals for the family, despite having met them twice at their Saxonwold compound.
“Yes, I did visit them at their Saxonwold compound,” he said. “I recall being there when they organised a public Indian food fair one morning. The other time was shortly after my appointment as minister to discuss the SABC-TNA breakfast show, where I would be expected to answer questions related to my portfolio.”
Asked by commission senior counsel Thandi Norman why, as deputy minister of public enterprises, he facilitated and attended a meeting in 2012 between Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) former CEO Lucky Montana and Tony Gupta, Martins replied: “It was days after I had been appointed and Tony Gupta was raising concerns about a Prasa locomotive acquisition tender process.
“He wanted the process to be reopened so that his company could tender. But it was already at a very late stage.
“I organised a meeting between Tony and Lucky Montana to clarify and give answers to his questions. There was nothing untoward, unlawful or a malicious intent on my part.”
The commission will tomorrow hear testimony from department of justice former director-general Nonkululeko Sindane.