Cape Town – Fugitive Ajay Gupta and his brother Atul are not South African citizens, Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said on Tuesday as he explained the contentious naturalisation process of some members of the family.
In 2016, after the Guptas began disinvesting in their South African businesses, a spokesperson for the family, Gary Naidoo told Fin24: "They are not leaving at all. They are still proudly South African citizens."
In June 2017, the EFF alleged that in 2015 Gigaba, then in his first stint as minister of home affairs, unduly granted Ajay, his wife Shivani, mother Angoori, and sons Kamal Kant Singhala and Surya Kant Singhala citizenship by waiving the residential requirements for naturalisation.
On Tuesday, home affairs director-general Mkuseli Apleni and Gigaba explained the process followed in the Guptas' naturalisation to the media after Gigaba addressed the Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs. In June last year he snubbed the committee.
The five family members' naturalisation application, which they submitted in 2013, was rejected in 2014 as Angoori had spent 90 consecutive days outside the country since the period that she was granted permanent residence and Shivani only had permanent residence for one year. They could reapply in December 2017.
They applied as a family, and their application was rejected collectively.
Indian citizenship not renounced
They then appealed to Gigaba in 2014, providing new information. Gigaba said the appeals process was provided for in law.
They provided documentation relating to the quantum of their investment in South Africa, that they employed 7 000 people, that their company was listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and their philanthropic projects. The department, upon investigation, later found that they employed 15 000, said Gigaba.
The department recommended that Gigaba grant them citizenship based on these facts.
Apleni said: "What was approved by the minister was the right to citizenship."
They first had to renounce their Indian citizenship before they could become South African citizens.
Ajay refused, and he is therefore not a South African citizen. His brother Atul is also not a South African citizen.
Applicants required to be 'of good character'
"If there was any intention on our part to favour this family, we would not have asked them to renounce their Indian citizenship," said Gigaba.
Gigaba said it was impossible to predict in 2014 that the Guptas would be embroiled in allegations of corruption.
In April 2013 the Waterkloof air force base was used for the Guptas' wedding guests. Ajay is now on the run from an investigation into the Vrede dairy farm project, from which state funds were allegedly pilfered to pay for the lavish wedding.
One of the requirements for South African citizenship is to be "of good character".
Gigaba said if a naturalised person is found to have committed a crime in the country, their citizenship is revoked and they are deported.
Apleni said only if there is a court ruling against an individual, will they be regarded as of not good character.
Alleged meeting with Guptas denied
"Knowing what we know now (about the Guptas), it is still not sufficient... to revoke their permanent residence," said Gigaba.
He said this would only be done following due process in court.
Gigaba said if fugitive Ajay presented himself at any South African port, he would be handed over to law enforcement authorities.
Apleni said the Department of Home Affairs was part of government's security cluster, which is involved in the investigation.
Gigaba said the letter on which the EFF based its accusation was false, and the department was investigating it.
"Neither the minister, nor the DG (director-general), nor the staff ever met with the Guptas to discuss their naturalisation," said Gigaba.
Gigaba expected before committee on public enterprises
Two weeks ago, just before then finance minister Gigaba was to deliver his budget address, it emerged that a court judgment made in December found he had "deliberately told untruths under oath". The court also found that Gigaba violated the Constitution.
The judgment follows a court battle launched by Fireblade Aviation, owned by the wealthy Oppenheimer family, in November 2016 against the Department of Home Affairs and others.
The application sought to have the court declare that approval for a terminal at OR Tambo International Airport – allegedly granted by Gigaba in early 2016 while he was still minister of home affairs – could not be revoked. It is alleged that Gigaba revoked the approval he originally granted under pressure from the Guptas.
While Gigaba was minister of public enterprises he restructured several state-owned enterprises' boards, loading them with alleged Gupta associates.
He would have appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Public Enterprises, which is investigating state capture, on Tuesday but requested "a reasonable extension to appear before the inquiry into the mismanagement of state funds in state-owned enterprises", according to a statement from the committee.