Ajay and Atul Gupta. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Ajay and Atul Gupta. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The Gupta family could be disposing of their assets to enable them to skip the country as an attempt to avoid being grilled by Parliament for their alleged capture of state-owned companies.

This was the fear expressed by MPs across the political divide during a meeting of the portfolio committee on public enterprises on Wednesday. The committee met to discuss the way forward with their inquiry into the alleged capture of publicly owned companies such as Eskom‚ Denel and Transnet by the controversial family‚ who are close friends of President Jacob Zuma.

The MPs raised their fears in the wake of revelations that the Guptas have decided to sell their mining firm Tegeta Exploration and Resources to a Switzerland-based company for R2.9bn.

Tegeta‚ a coal supplier to Eskom‚ has been at the centre of state-capture allegations following claims that Eskom had paid the company a R600m advance‚ which it used to buy another mining firm‚ Optimum Coal‚ in 2015. The sale of Tegeta came just two days after the Guptas announced they had sold their media companies — TV station ANN7 and newspaper The New Age — for R450m to their ally, Mzwanele Manyi, in a vendor-financed deal.

ANC MP Pravin Gordhan‚ who is the former finance minister‚ told the public enterprises committee that it needed to move with speed in its inquiry into the alleged capture of three state-owned companies.

Gordhan said that while the Guptas had fashioned themselves as proponents of radical economic transformation, in particular, and black economic empowerment, in general‚ it was suspicious that they chose to sell Tegeta to a foreign company.

"As parliament and guardians of the fiscus‚ we have to ask questions about this disposal. It’s not just some ordinary citizen buying and selling something. These are all entities and companies implicated in state capture‚" said Gordhan. "A lot of has been said in the last few years by both ministers responsible for Eskom, and Eskom itself, about black economic empowerment‚ so why is this mine being sold to a foreign entity? Why not to a South African black businessperson or entity‚ so what’s going on here?"

"In a context where there are suspicions of money laundering‚ racketeering‚ etc‚ as a public enterprises committee‚ we have to be very concerned."

Floyd Shivambu‚ the chief whip of the EFF‚ said the Guptas "can run but cannot hide" and that there was enough of a paper trail to pursue them.

"SA’s constitutional democracy and criminal justice system still exists. If they exist‚ we’re going to get that money back and people are going to end up in prison. Let’s go through his process because the money has been transferred to their account‚ Eskom helped them buy Tegeta mines. If The New Age and that illegal TV station was financed by laundered money‚ we’re going to get that money back‚" he said.

However‚ the DA’s Natasha Mazzone pointed out that there was no extradition treaty between SA and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). There has been concern that the Guptas are planning to relocate to Dubai as pressure mounts for them to face criminal charges related to state-capture allegations.

"I just want to explain what my panic is … As far as I know‚ we don’t have an extradition treaty with the UAE. So they leave South African soil ... how are we going to get them back here?" she said.

The public enterprises committee is piling pressure on National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete to give them enough resources to conduct a thorough probe into state-capture allegations‚ including the appointment of a suitably qualified lawyer as an evidence leader.

Last week, Parliament’s lawyers bizarrely told the committee there was no money to hire a proposed evidence leader and some MPs have suggested they should accept offers of outside help if the national legislature insists it does not have sufficient resources.

Please sign in or register to comment.