'Talk to my lawyer,' Gupta 'fixer' tells parliamentary committee
13 September 2018
Ashu Chawla, believed to have been central in the facilitation of visas for the Guptas and the family's naturalisation, has lawyered up after hearing that Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs wants to talk to him.
"He said all correspondence will have to be communicated via his lawyer," said committee chairperson Hlomani Chauke on Thursday.
On Wednesday, Chauke said the committee wanted Chawla, who signed the application to Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba for the naturalisation of the family, to appear before it. The family originally hails from India.
The committee hoped he could clarify claims made about him in what has become known as the #GuptaLeaks emails, that he may have been an alleged "fixer" with the Department of Home Affairs in terms of getting visas for the wealthy industrialists, their families and employees.
Chauke had said on Wednesday that if necessary, a summons would be served on Chawla for him to appear before the committee.
On Wednesday night, committee secretary Eddie Mathonsi received a phone call from Chawla's lawyer saying that the committee would have to go through him for information from, or requests to, Chawla.
The lawyer also said that Chawla was in India and would be there until the end of November.
"We may have to disrupt his trip to India and have to try and [have him] come back," said Chauke.
The next meeting of the committee is planned for October 9, and was supposed to have been to work on the final report on the probe.
Chauke said Thursday's proceedings were intended to establish the finer details of how the Guptas' visas and travel documents were issued, right down to requesting courier slips to make sure "they were not issued in Saxonwold", and how their naturalisation application was adjudicated.
Saxonwold is a reference to the location of the family's private estate in Johannesburg – the scene of alleged ministerial job offers by the family, which the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture is currently probing.
The Portfolio Committee on Home Affairs is aiming at establishing how the Guptas entered South Africa amid allegations that there were improprieties in the Department of Home Affairs to get them into the country.
However, proceedings got off to an uncomfortable start on Thursday with the two officials on the home affairs adjudication committee – Richard Sikakane and Norman Ramashia – appearing to distance themselves from a final decision on the Guptas' naturalisation application.
Ramashia told the committee before questioning began that he was not actually on the adjudication committee that heard the application, and that somebody else who had since left had been part of it.
Then Sikakane chimed in that he was just in the room "observing" because he was still new.
But the committee pointed out that Sikakane was a co-signatory on the document stating "refusal recommended".
The committee was given an overview of the processes that are supposed to take place when dealing with naturalisation applications.
The committee heard that in this case, the application was handled in Gauteng.
The committee was told that it starts with a "back-office clerk", who in this case was identified as "Hlatshwayo", who sends the residence permit off for authentication, fingerprints for a police record background check and other details for verification.
This file is then sent to a supervisor, identified as "Ramokoka", and she checks the information before sending it to the adjudication committee.
The adjudication committee meets, and in this case, the decision was "refusal recommended", with Sikakane's signature on it. He said his signature did not mean it was his decision, but that he concurred.
Sharp-eyed EFF MP Hlengiwe Mkhaliphi then pointed out that Hlatshwayo, who had been described as a "back-office clerk", was actually identified as the deputy director general on the paperwork.
Sikakane explained that clerks sign documents on behalf of the director general.
In this case Shivan Gupta, the wife of Ajay Gupta, was denied naturalisation because she did not comply with "requirements", and his mother Angoori's application was denied because she had exceeded the 90-day limit out of the country in one year that applicants are required to stick to.
Sikakane said the department then rejected the applications of all the family members who had applied because it does not like to split families up.
The Guptas were told that they could reapply on December 23, 2017.
Chawla then wrote a letter of appeal on behalf of the family.
The hearing continues.