May 6 (Bloomberg) -- South African President Jacob Zuma said India wasn’t responsible for a security breach when a plane of wedding guests landed at a restricted air force base, and that lower level officials were to blame.
Guests to the wedding of the Gupta family, which is close to Zuma, landed at the Waterkloof Air Force base outside the capital, Pretoria, on April 30 and were driven to the ceremony in black BMWs fitted with flashing police lights. The government said use of the facility wasn’t authorized at the “executive level” and suspended five officials and arrested 11 police officers and a reservist.
“I don’t think we need to try and accuse and punish India,” Zuma said in an interview broadcast on state-owned SAFM radio today. “The officials, without the political level knowing, took their own decision. Those are the people we need to act against.”
The government said last week it would probe whether the India High Commission abused its diplomatic privilege. High Commissioner Virendra Gupta said May 3 that his country applied for permission to land the plane at the base because ministers and senior political figures were on board.
The base is classified as a “national key point” and access is restricted to government and military officials.
Wedding spokesman Haramath Gosh said the military facility was used with “with full permission of the authorities.”
The Guptas, an Indian family that has been doing business in South Africa since 1993, own Sahara Computers and The New Age newspaper. They were part of a group including Zuma’s son, Duduzane, that sought 800 million rand ($90 million) for a mining right disputed by Anglo American Plc unit Kumba Iron Ore. Members of the family also control Shiva Uranium Ltd.
Zuma has been a friend of the Gupta family for about a decade, Sahara Computers Managing Director Atul Gupta said in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Daily Maverick in 2011.
The incident has drawn criticism from the ruling African National Congress, the opposition Democratic Alliance and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, an ANC ally.
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