South Africa

‘If you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long-lost pal’: Security chaos at Gupta wedding

By De Wet Potgieter 3 May 2013

The Gupta clan may have aimed for high-profile security at the now-notorious wedding - complete with bodyguards and designated drivers - but the plans disintegrated into chaos. As the bridal couple exchanged vows at the multi-million-rupee celebration at Sun City, confusion reigned in the wings. The heavies, hired to protect VIPs from India, were off the scene – those who had not already been fired by the organisers, simply deserted as a result of internal squabbles. By DE WET POTGIETER.

Chaos reigned among the security detail at the Gupta wedding, with hired guards calling the arrangements a “joke” and “unprofessional” while management scrambled for some semblance of damage control.

Herman Steyn, the owner of Idol Protection Services (IPS), was hired by the Gupta family to handle transport and personal bodyguarding for the entourage of guests from India. A nervous Steyn refused to comment on the security crisis at the event, saying simply, “It’s a long story.” At the time of being interviewed, Steyn was chin-deep in crisis management, trying to replace the men who walked from the job.

A total of 15 Close Protection Officers (CPOs) and more than 20 designated drivers spoke to Daily Maverick about the dysfunctional security arrangements. As Daily Maverick interviewed the disgruntled group, Gupta Air’s controversial Boeing took off from Waterkloof and could be seen flying overhead on its route to OR Tambo International Airport.

The first mistake, say security sources, occurred several weeks ago at the recruitment stage. Potential employees only had to produce ID documents and cell numbers – no further security or competence checks were done, and despite the transport requirement for the job, nobody checked whether they had valid driver’s licences.

“To be honest, it is a miracle that no lives were endangered by the unprofessional security arrangements,” said a war veteran, who had formerly served in Iraq.

The CPOs were initially offered a fee of R950 per day, which was later changed to R850 per day without adequate explanation. They were supposed to receive three meals per day while at Sun City, but that, too, was changed to only breakfast.

The guards and drivers also complained of never being properly briefed on their duties.

As for what transpired at the actual wedding, the issues started with transportation, where the drivers had to pay toll fees out of their own pockets. The security operation kicked off at eight on Monday night, when the CPOs and drivers gathered at the Continental Hotel at OR Tambo and proceeded to Thrifty’s Car Hire, where they picked up over 20 Mercedes C200 sedans. From there, they visited a second car hire company in Modderfontein, where they were given 10 LandRover Discoverys and 10 brand-new Range Rover Evoques. They took the vehicles home and arrived at Waterkloof at 5 on Tuesday morning.

When the chartered Jet Airways A330-203 plane touched down, the vehicles drove in convoy onto the tarmac, where the visitors were picked up and dropped off at the terminal. Outside, several black BMWs and Volkswagen Golf GTIs of the police blue light squad waited to escort the entourage to Sun City. One of the blue light cars was struggling to start, and the police officers had to push start it before they could move into the convoy.

“From there, it was open road all the way to Sun City,” the security officers told Daily Maverick. Civilians’ vehicles were forced to move over by police for the convoy to pass. At the toll gates, traffic cops stopped all civilian vehicles, allowing the group of visitors preferential treatment – but this apparently did not reduce the drivers’ irritation at having to pay the tolls themselves.

The convoy allegedly travelled between 120 and 140km/h all the way to Sun City, and were met at every intersection by police officers ensuring the convoy could speed along without stopping anywhere.

The ethics of preferential treatment aside, the trouble really started for the security team when they arrived with their distinguished guests at the Lost City. They had to work during the extravagant gala evening on Tuesday night, and some of them only managed to secure a place to sleep at 02:30 Wednesday morning. “By then we were already up and going for 22 hours,” one said.

Besides their exhaustion, the staff were also hugely critical of the lack of safety measures. While the CPOs were instructed to hand in their firearms at the hotel’s reception for safekeeping in the safe, some of the drivers carried their firearms for the duration of their stay. This is regarded by the well-trained CPOs as a grave breach of security.

Furthermore, two Tshwane metro police officers, who were moonlighting for some extra money as security officers, were summarily fired in the early hours of Wednesday morning when hotel security accused them of “tampering with hotel property”. They claimed they were trying to close up a fire hydrant that was leaking water.

Several other disgruntled CPOs and drivers left Sun City by yesterday morning and returned home.

“This is not the way we operate as security experts,” the group told Daily Maverick. “It’s a joke.”

By last night it was not yet clear how the group of VIP guests from India would be transported back from Sun City, given the desertion of their drivers and bodyguards. DM

Photo: The Lost City palace (SA Tourism)



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