Oakbay director Ashu Chawla was previously described as “the most key witness” in the inquiry as to how the Gupta family managed to obtain early South African citizenship – but has yet to appear before Parliament.
On Tuesday, Parliament’s Home Affairs committee chair Hlomani Chauke explained that the inquiry will have to reconvene in early December to accommodate Chawla. The alternative, Chauke said, was buying Chawla a return business class airfare from India.
Chauke told the committee that Chawla had indicated through his lawyer that he was only willing to come to South Africa before December if Parliament subsidised his trip.
“That ticket was about R77,000 from where Chawla is in New Delhi,” Chauke said.
“We don’t have that money.”
Chawla claimed that he was unable to return to South Africa any earlier because he was caring for his sick mother.
The Gupta lieutenant further demanded through his lawyer that Parliament provide a Hindi interpreter for his appearance before the inquiry.
“Chawla is a South African, by the way,” Chauke remarked. “He has been in the country for more than 17 years.”
The committee chair pointed out that it was Chawla who had written to the Department of Home Affairs to request that the Gupta family be granted early South African citizenship – a lengthy letter, in fluent English.
And yet, commented Chauke wryly: “It’s Chawla who can’t speak English”.
In his opening remarks to the Home Affairs committee on Tuesday, Chauke also raised the issue of how Chawla – according to copies of his identity documents contained in the #Guptaleaks emails – was able to pose for a South African ID picture while wearing sunglasses.
“This will be the only person in the country who can take an ID picture with sunglasses,” Chauke said.
He indicated that department officials would be expected to account for this oddity in the course of Tuesday’s hearing.
The committee will hear testimony today from Home Affairs officials including Ronald Steyn, who was moved from the Indian High Commission in New Delhi to be replaced by uber-accommodating Gupta ally Gideon Christians.
The hearing is expected to conclude with the appearance of Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba – who previously declared himself eager to “debunk, with cold hard facts, the manufactured myth that I granted citizenship to the Gupta family”. DM