South Africa’s government pledged to cooperate with a probe by the nation’s graft ombudsman on how an Airbus jet carrying wedding guests from India was allowed to land at a military base after it released its own report into the incident.
Authorities arrested 11 police officers and reservists, and suspended South Africa’s head of state protocol Bruce Koloane, three senior military officers and a police major general for facilitating the April 30 landing at the Waterkloof Air Force base near Pretoria. The government probe found Koloane colluded with an Indian High Commission official to secure access to the base for guests of the Gupta family, whose companies employ a son of President Jacob Zuma and one of his four wives. The Indian High Commission deny it breached protocol.
Justice Minister Jeff Radebe repeated denials that Zuma or any government minister had any knowledge of the request to use the base, which he described as irregular and unauthorized.
In the interests of transparency, “I have acceded to a request to the Public Protector by furnishing her with a copy” of the government report on the incident, Radebe said in a parliamentary debate on the issue in Cape Town today. “Any insinuation of a cover-up as alluded to by opposition party leaders and some commentators are clearly misplaced.”
The government probe found there was abuse of diplomatic channels by the Guptas and a deliberate attempt to misrepresent the wedding as an official visit. It also accused Koloane and Lieutenant Colonel Christine Anderson, the movement control officer at Waterkloof base, of a dereliction of duty, and bearing undue influence on state officials.
The report found that in addition to the Airbus that brought the wedding guests from India to South Africa, the air force base was used by seven private helicopters and two fixed-wing aircraft that flew guests to the wedding at the Sun City resort. Authorization was given for 194 government officials and 88 state vehicles to provide security for guests traveling to and attending the wedding, it said.
David Maynier, a lawmaker for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said the government ministers shouldn’t be allowed to exonerate themselves and the true facts of the incident still needed to be brought to light.
“We cannot sit back and allow ministers to get off the hook by hanging a few rogue officials out to dry,” he said in the debate. “Ministerial heads must roll.”
The Guptas, an Indian family that has been doing business in South Africa since 1993, own Sahara Computers and The New Age newspaper. In an April 19 statement, the family apologized for any embarrassment or inconvenience caused by the landing of the aircraft and said “some misjudgments had been made.”
The Indian High Commission said standard and official channels were followed in requesting permission to use the base to land the plane, which was expected to carry government ministers.
“The request was made with a view to ensuring appropriate security arrangements and courtesies for the visiting dignitaries,” it said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
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