Members of the Gupta family, who’ve been implicated in looting billions of rand from state companies in South Africa, are willing to give testimony before a judicial panel investigating the alleged graft but only from outside the country, one of their lawyers said.
The three Gupta brothers have a “reasonable apprehension” that they could be arrested and prosecuted by authorities that are reckless, incompetent and wield unbridled power, Mike Hellens, Ajay Gupta’s lawyer, told the panel in Johannesburg on Thursday. “They will not expose themselves to bodies that behave in such a manner.”
The Guptas are friends with Jacob Zuma, who was forced by the ruling party to resign as president in February, and were in business with his son, Duduzane. The nation’s former anti-graft ombudsman alleged in a report that the brothers may have used their political connections to influence cabinet appointments and the awarding of state contracts and directed that the judicial panel be established to investigate the matter further.
The Guptas have been seen in Dubai, where they have a home, and in India, their birthplace. They would testify before the panel headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo in another country or via video conference, Hellens said. Should the panel not agree to their terms, it could be deprived of vital information and evidence wouldn’t be tested, he said.
Vincent Maleka, a member of the commission’s legal team, said that while it may serve the Guptas’ interests to testify from abroad, it wouldn’t suit the commission or the public because it would be very expensive, and they couldn’t be compelled to answer questions or be held accountable if they lied.
“The Guptas want to have a selective treatment of the law. We would discourage such unfair treatment,” Maleka said, adding that there was no lawful reason why the brothers shouldn’t return to the country. The Guptas’ evidence wasn’t fundamental to the commission’s work and they were likely to merely deny the allegations against them, he said.
Zondo reserved judgment in applications by lawyers acting for the Guptas and Duduzane Zuma to cross-examine witnesses who have implicated them in wrongdoing. Maleka urged Zondo to reject the applications unless they agreed to the commission’s terms to testify.