An Eyewitness News investigation has uncovered blatant disregard for immigration laws by the Gupta-owned Infinity Media, parent company of the newly launched Africa News Network 7. Seven Indian employees have been confirmed as being in South Africa on visitor permits, but it's alleged that all the imported labour are working at the station illegally. By BARRY BATEMAN.
ANN7 has been dogged by controversy from day one, mostly for its embarrassing live bloopers. But two weeks ago former consulting editor, Rajesh Sundaram, left the station making dramatic claims about editorial interference from Atul Gupta, meetings with President Jacob Zuma and pledges by the group to be sympathetic to the African National Congress in the run-up to next year’s elections.
Infinity Media management branded Sundaram as a lying, disgruntled employee who had tried to extort money from management. Sundaram maintains that the company owes him money for overtime.
Sundaram made numerous allegations at the time, including that there were widespread immigration irregularities related to the visas used to get the large Indian contingent of employees into South Africa.
Questioned about these allegations, Infinity Media chief executive, Nazeem Howa, said, “We are fully compliant with all labour legislation. Given the ultra-modern equipment we have installed at the channel, we have some colleagues from our Indian shareholder helping with the launch and setting up the channel.”
While Howa referred to Sundaram’s claims as “wild allegations”, Eyewitness News has independently verified immigration records which show that Anand Prakash Lal, Deepak Kaushik, Sanjay Pandey and Vishnu Shankar all entered SA stating that the purpose of their visit was for a holiday.
Prakash Lal was the production control room head, Kaushik was employed as a vision mixer, Pandey was involved in production and Shankar was employed as an output editor.
Eight names, including these four, were submitted to Home Affairs to confirm their visa status.
Home Affairs director general, Mkhuseli Aplieni, said of the list of eight names Eyewitness News supplied to the department, seven had entered the country on visitor permits, and one on an inter-company transfer visa.
Aplieni said this permit would allow the person multiple entries to the country over a set period of time, but employment is prohibited.
Immigration attorney Julian Pockroy said an Indian national on a visitor permit as envisaged by Section 11 of the Immigration Act 13 would only be allowed into the country on either a holiday, business appointments or to attend a short course or lecture.
“This means that they may not take up employment nor may they conduct work-related activities and may only conduct holiday activities,” said Pockroy.
He added that this type of visitor permit does not allow a change of status to that of a work or other permit under current Department of Homes Affairs policy.
Penalties for contravening the legislation include deportation for the employee as well as being blacklisted, while fines of up to R30,000 may be issued to the employer for each non-compliant employee.
Two weeks ago Jackie McKay, Deputy Director General Immigration Services, told Eyewitness News that the department would only investigate Sundaram’s allegations if a formal complaint were lodged.
A day after the comment, Sundaram lodged the complaint, sending it to McKay, Aplieni and several other senior officials. Aplieni claims to have no knowledge of the complaint, despite being one of the recipients.
“We will act on any complaint which is submitted to the department. As you know this department is promoting zero-tolerance to corruption, fraud or anything which goes against our laws,” he said.
Sundaram further alleges that all visas issued to Indian nationals were routed through the office of Sahara Computers chief executive, Ashu Chawla.
This is the same Chawla identified in the Waterkloof Air Force Base investigation as playing a key role in arranging for the unauthorised landing of an aircraft carrying more than 200 Gupta wedding guests in April.
The investigation found that Chawla, assisted by an unnamed official at the Indian High Commission, had misled government officials into thinking that the Gupta plane was carrying four Indian government ministers.
“The collusion between Chawla and an individual in the Indian High Commission to abuse diplomatic channels to request flight clearance is of concern and improper,” the report stated.
Said Sundaram, “I believe he used his influence in the South African president’s office to get these visas issued in a matter of days without the proper process being followed.”
“I know that political pressure from the highest level was exerted on officials at the South African High Commission in Delhi to expedite these visas,” Sundaram added.
All attempts at contacting Howa yesterday were fruitless. DM
"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall