The Guptas and some of their friends and associates were treated like Cabinet ministers by the South African Police Service (SAPS) during the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, with members of the police's VIP unit escorting the Gupta party to several locations in and around Johannesburg. By Pieter-Louis Myburgh for NEWS24.
First published by News24.
News24 can reveal that the Guptas received protection from the SAPS’ VIP Protection Services, a sub-unit of the police’s Protection and Security Services (PSS), on five separate occasions during the 2010 tournament.
The unit is supposed to look after Cabinet ministers and other high ranking South African government officials, foreign dignitaries and other VIPs involved in government affairs.
The protection of private business people does not fall within the unit’s mandate.
The Guptas played host to Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani and his family during the tournament.
It appears that the Guptas may have secured VIP police protection based on a claim they allegedly made that Ambani was a “minister” from India.
Ambani, the chairperson and largest shareholder of Reliance Industries Limited, is ranked by Forbes as India’s richest person. His net worth is estimated to be near $23bn (around R297bn).
Sources close to the police’s VIP unit have described in detail to News24 how members of the squad were ordered to accompany the Guptas and their guests before, during and after the World Cup’s final match at Soccer City in Johannesburg in July 2010.
According to the sources, the VIP unit was first ordered to pick up an Indian “minister” from OR Tambo International Airport after the tournament had kicked off.
The sources say that the unit soon learned that the person they were supposed to escort was not a government official, but instead merely a friend and guest of a powerful business family from Johannesburg.
Big scandals, such as the Waterkloof debacle, were still a few years away, and the Guptas were relatively unknown at that stage
“We were just told that there is an Indian minister that needed to be escorted. The people were then taken to a house in Saxonwold, which we later learnt was a guesthouse owned by one of the Guptas’ companies,” said one of the sources.
News24 was able to determine, through property records, that the “guesthouse” our source referred to is a property owned by Islandsite Investments 180, a company that owns many of the Guptas’ upmarket properties around the country.
The house is also located on the same street as the Guptas’ infamous compound situated across the road from the Johannesburg zoo.
According to the source, the Gupta brother with the “broad, round face” and Duduzane Zuma, were mostly around whenever the Guptas’ guests needed to be escorted by the VIP officers.
The Gupta brother referred to by the source may have been Ajay, the eldest of the Gupta trio, though this could not be confirmed.
Over the course of the next few days before the World Cup final at Soccer City, the VIP unit on separate occasions escorted the party from Saxonwold to the Lion and Safari Park near Hartbeespoort and to the Grand Central Airport in Midrand, from where the Guptas, their guests and Duduzane Zuma flew in a private aircraft to an unknown location.
The unit’s penultimate Gupta-related obligation was to transfer the party, which again included the “broad-faced” Gupta brother, Duduzane Zuma and the Indian guests, to Soccer City for the final between Spain and the Netherlands.
The VIP unit not only drove in the group’s convoy, but also personally escorted the Gupta group to their box in the stadium – where they remained until the final whistle was blown.
“The Guptas watched the match from a VVIP box where heads of state and other senior government officials were watching the game,” said one of the sources.
The unit then finally escorted the Guptas’ guests back to OR Tambo International Airport a day later.
News24’s sources were not sure who exactly the Guptas’ Indian guests were, but information contained in the Gupta leaks emails suggests that it may have been Mukesh Ambani and his family.
Emails exchanged between Joleen Robinson, a long-time employee of the Guptas, and two employees of Ambani’s Reliance group shows that the Gupta “guesthouse” in Saxonwold was reserved for the Ambani family around the time of the World Cup final.
Spreadsheets included in the leaks also show that several tickets for a VIP suite at Soccer City were booked under the surname “Ambani” for the final match.
Ambani’s two assistants, who had been in contact with Robinson, did not respond to News24’s queries regarding their boss’ trip to SA.
An email sent to the Reliance Group also went unanswered.
The Guptas and Duduzane Zuma, as well as Major-General Sally de Beer and Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo, the SAPS’ national spokespeople, also failed to respond to our queries.
No justification for VIP protection
Dr Johan Burger, a security expert from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said neither private business people such as the Guptas or Ambani, nor Duduzane Zuma, qualify for protection from the SAPS’ VIP unit.
“The VIP unit is already stretched to capacity. If it also had to cater for wealthy businessmen, the unit would not be able to function.”
According to Burger, Duduzane no longer qualifies for VIP protection, seeing as he is not a dependent of President Jacob Zuma and no longer forms part of the president’s immediate household.
The SAPS’ 2015-2016 annual report confirms that the PPS and its sub-divisions may only provide protection to individuals who had been identified as VIPs in accordance with the South African Constitution.
People may only be given VIP protection by the SAPS “by virtue of their public office or strategic importance to the country (including foreign dignitaries)”, according to the annual report. DM
Photo: President Zuma accompanied by Atul Gupta, Minister of Public Enterprise Malusi Gigaba and CEO of The New Age Nazeem Howa during a live broadcast of the SABC News Morning Show. The show was broadcast from the Eastern Cape Traning Centre in Port Elizabeth. The breakfast with The President was held in partnership with Transnet, SABC News and the New Age Newspaper 16/03/2012 (GCIS)