So, what is it like to work on the #GuptaLeaks, Redi Thlabi asked Scorpio journo Richard Poplak at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering: – Media Edition on Thursday. Well, Poplak said, we now know the Guptas are very good gangsters. And they worked very, very hard. This story is your peek behind the veil of the #GuptaLeaks, as discussed by Sam Sole, Stefaans Brümmer, Adriaan Basson and Poplak. BY PAULI VAN WYK.
The two most profound pieces of knowledge coming from the #GuptaLeaks are most probably the frightening depth and breadth of the rot exposed and the shameless display of a justice system that has completely broken down.
During the panel discussion at The Gathering – Media Edition held in Cape Town on Thursday, News24 editor Adriaan Basson highlighted what should have happened the moment the first story based on the #GuptaLeaks landed at the end of May: The police should immediately have announced a “crack squad” of the best police officers in the country to investigate the allegations exposed by the media. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) should have appointed a team to guide the Hawks to ensure a proper, prosecution-driven investigation while freezing bank accounts and assets. But nothing like this happened. Panel chair Redi Thlabi even claims to have forgotten what NPA boss “Shaun Abrahams looks like”. “The breakdown of a criminal justice system is completely exposed by the #GuptaLeaks,” Basson said.
But this is nothing new, said amaBhungane’s Sam Sole. “The justice system was caught a long time ago, before the Guptas.” Like when former president Thabo Mbeki fired NPA head Vusi Pikoli because he didn’t want him to charge police commissioner Jackie Selebi, Mbeki’s last standing political ally at the time.
“The emails have been decisive in demonstrating that the state capture narrative is real. It actually feeds quite well into the current political contestation.”
And how legit are these emails, Thlabi asked, because people claim they’re fake. Said amaBhungane’s Stefaans Brümmer: “There are only two people saying the emails are fake. And those two are Mr Gupta and Mr Mngxitama”.
Atul Gupta recently told the BBC that the 362,321 emails that make up a part of the treasure trove known as the #GuptaLeaks are somehow fake. The Gupta-beholden leader of Black Land First (BLF) Andile Mngxitama has also defended the family in the past, saying stories based on the #GuptaLeaks are designed to destroy black people.
“There is no possibility that these things are fake,” Brümmer replied, describing the meticulous process amaBhungane and Daily Maverick followed to ensure that the chain of evidence is preserved in case the matter would land in court.
But how did they do it, Thlabi asked. How did the Guptas steal our country and our ANC from right under our noses. Does it speak to how tactical they were? Were the ANC such a willing enabler?
After wading through the emails, their attachments and additional documents, Scorpio’s Richard Poplak concluded the Guptas are “very good gangsters”.
“You are talking about an organisation that has thousands of balls in the air at the same time in order to siphon money out of state owned agencies. They effectively tolled the bridge where money flowed from the state to the service providers, and took a percentage of it. [The scheme] needs a lot of people. The breadth [of the wrongdoing] is staggering. It shows how weak our state institutions are. The Guptas, coming from India [in the early 1990s], had an innate understanding of how weak the state would be when “democracy” is being built. And – this is for the kids at home – they worked very, very hard. When we were on holiday, having Christmas, they were buying aircraft with Canadian money.”
Thlabi said she is fascinated about how the Guptas were able to get “into the cells of an organisation [the ANC] that has such a lush and rich history. It is jarring,” she said. “I don’t think the ANC really appreciates how painful this is for many of us [journalists]. They think we are enjoying badmouthing the ANC in the media. If you know the history of the ANC and lived through it, this is actually very, very painful.”
How, she asked Sole, did the ANC become so vulnerable and susceptible to the Guptas?
Sole revealed how amaBhungane unit members, who have researched and reported on the Guptas for more than seven years, looked at “how things happened in India”. The current South African intersection of crime, money laundering and the state is “standard” in India, Sole said.
“I always think of how Shabir Shaik came here and wanted a slice of the cake. The Guptas came here and wanted the whole cake for themselves. I think it was like taking candy from a baby; however, they were very strategic.
“We shouldn’t however underestimate the power and position of president Jacob Zuma in all of this. None of this would’ve happened without the president. There is no doubt over his absolute culpability. And even though he is really good at keeping his fingerprints off things, we must remember that his son Duduzane Zuma is the bagman and plays an important role in the Gupta empire.” DM