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JOHANNESBURG — In what is the third in a series on Zupta state capture, the BBC has published a longer interview with Atul Gupta. In this interview, he claims innocence, playing down the amount of business he has received from government. He tries to dodge political questions, but the BBC journalist rightfully pushes on. So far, Atul is coming across very poorly in media interviews. His statements fail to line up with the truth and comes across as evasive and defensive. It’s no wonder that he and his family turned to Bell Pottinger to manage him and his company’s image. But that turned sour as well. There’s no doubt that the Guptas are toxic and one wonders what kind of defence they’ll pull out if they’re hauled in front of a packed court gallery… – Gareth van Zyl
“Whichever industry we came in it takes a bit of disruption to the regular businesses and the minute we achieve this disruption goes. Then we sit and we could not understand why so much resistance against us in this country. Slowly we understand this is oligopoly, monopoly capital who is behind this media ownership. We do not want any new competitor to come into the country.”
In a way though doesn’t your success show that it is perfectly possible to be non-white in SA and doing incredibly well in very little time?
“What do you call success? I don’t have a bank account.”
You have a TV station, a newspaper, you have interests in energy, you’ve got mines, airlines, rail, arms – you are in every part of industry. Just the very fact that you can do that should show that, it’s not just run by white people.
“No, but please understand up to a limit so, what’s happening? This is a few families. Monopoly particularly who are controlling this country, or oligopoly. They do not want any newcomer to come in the industry on that level.”
Well, one of the reasons your reputation seems to be so damaged here is because of what they’re calling ‘State Capture.’ Now, there was a report on this recently carried about some academics and some legal professionals in this country. Firstly, why did your family go to court to stop the report being published?
“If you look at the State Capture please understand from the allegations the R100’s of billions amount and we as the Gupta family, 23/24 years of business. It’s not a state business as all. This report is totally inconclusive. There’s no single finding in there. The total of our revenue is not even 8.9%. The real State Capture they’re not even looking into.”
Well, I think they would say that even if only 8.9% of your total revenue comes from Government it will talk about it as it may just be 8.9% of your total revenue from government business but the government also has the ability to grant licenses. To allow you to buy up bits of industry, where you can make money outside the government. I think the allegations basically are that you’ve been much too close to the President and to the government. There are stories, which are often cited of Ministers being called to your home and being either pressured. For example, there was a Minister who was pressured to try and get SA Airways to drop the route to India, so that an airline that you have an interest in, Jet Airways, would be able to monopolise the route effectively. It’s things like that and there are other Ministers who say they were offered bribes. That’s why people call it State Capture.
“No but on which basis? That’s why I’m saying that no one will be able to bring the proof for that. We don’t know what they’re talking, number one. Number two, when you said, a particular Minister has been offered some money or whatever but we’ve given our affidavit…..”
Well, let’s do each of them separately so, this is the example of the former Deputy Finance Minister, Mr Jonas, who says that he was being offered R600m by your brother to be the Finance Minister and to be cooperative.
“I see in Public Protector that Affidavit because most of these things are news to me as well. Then when I saw this I went specifically to my brother, Mr Ajay Gupta. I say this is the Affidavit that Minister Jonas has given but Mr Ajay had given a counter Affidavit. I said in my whole life I’ve never met this man, I’ve never seen him, I never shook him. He might meet you? I said, “No, I wasn’t even that 6 weeks in the country. He might meet another brother. We don’t even know what he’s talking so, he’s…”
But what possible good would it do him to put out this allegation? Both he and the Finance Minister, who he worked with, were both sacked from their jobs overnight, with very little explanation. The country went into junk status. They were both very trusted characters in the Treasury. What possible interest would he have to invent these allegations?
“So, ask him. We don’t know, honestly. We don’t know why our name is being dragged in all these things without any reason, why we would be doing that? They all, when they’re targeting politically they’re running their own agenda. So, what, as a normal business family are we to do with this?”
One of the other things that comes in the State Capture report is examples like the coal that you were talking about. So, your family took over Optimum Coal Mine and the price that the Government energy company paid for coal went from, I think it was R150 per ton, under your predecessors, Glencore, and then it went up to R571.
“R150 – we are honouring 100%. That’s what the misperception they’re creating.”
Are you not being paid R571 per ton?
“This contract is exactly getting paid not even now, until 2018. We are paying exactly R150, what Glencore was paying.”
Has Eskom given you another contract for the same mine, which is now worth R571 per ton?
“No, it’s not ours. It was in businesses queue. I’m saying our prices are transparent. You can take from Eskom, you can take our contract for authenticity – we can give it to you.”
Do you absolutely deny that there’s been a change in the price since you took it over?
“Yes, the both original contracts are at original prices, yes, ma’am.’
How can you afford to keep it running?
“No definitely our effectiveness. That’s why I’m saying they should appreciate. This is what they should know. They were asking to increase this price 3 times and this and that, and that’s why they were put on business rescue. That is what we are running efficiently. It’s a successful business.”
One of the other cases that was cited by the report was if transport, railways, how much does your family knows about railways?
“Not at all.”
So why was China South Rail who, presumably know a lot about railways why were they paying the Gupta family 21% advisory fee on all the deals they were getting?
“Ask who is spreading that? You can provide any… You can dream tomorrow about anything and everything and ask me how should I answer it?”
So, the Gupta family is definitely not getting any kind of cut from China South Rail?
“No, not at all.”
You absolutely deny that altogether?
“Yes, for sure. We have nothing to do with this.”
You’re getting no money out of railways?
If this is all completely untrue why aren’t you suing people who are talking about this all the time?
“When you stay a little more in SA you will understand how SA legal senior counsels work, how the system works and I have to run my active business 7 500 employees, who is hopefully looking at my family to give every month’s salary. Do I look after my business or do I go for these gossip newsletters? What should I do, please?”
Some people think that one of the reasons that you’re not just surviving but doing very well is because of your close relationship with President Zuma. His son worked for you for a number of years. You have business interests together, his daughter did and his wife. Do you think given that you do sometimes put in bids for government business especially and government contracts and state-owned industry and state-owned companies. Is there a conflict of interest there?
“No, but which contract? Please, show me the contract.”
Have you got no Government contact?
“I’m saying show me one contract.”
You do, do some business with the Government, 8.9% of your revenue, since last year comes from government contracts directly, and that’s not including the ones that the Government can make it easier for you to get. Do you think it’s difficult, given your relationship with President Zuma – does conflicts of interest arise?
“No, ma’am. The monopoly capital do not want us to do business in this country because it’s affecting their oligopoly in this country.”
There is a currently a vote of no confidence about to be called for President Zuma.
“That’s a political matter, please.”
Do you feel guilty because part of the reason that’s been cited is the Gupta family?
“Those are political matters and it has nothing to do with us. We are a simple, business family.”
Talking of political matters, the Democratic Alliance has called your role in this country treason. The EFF, Julius Malema, has described the Gupta family as crooks but he’s also said that he’s scared for his life because he feels that he’s being tracked by private detectives that have been put on him. Even the Deputy President, this is the ANC itself, the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has said, and it’s no interest to him for his government to say that resources that rightfully belong to the people of SA have been used by your family and he won’t remain quiet about it anymore.
“Sorry, what is the Deputy President saying about my family, please repeat?”
Resources rightfully belonging to the people of SA have been taken and used by your family in particular he talked about a wedding.
“Well, the Deputy President has to give any authenticity or document for that. He’s been misinformed about this. This is not true. I’m happy to cooperate any credible probe, any information he wants. I will be very pleased to cooperate and give all authenticity which I believe is not true.”
If President Zuma does lose the vote of no confidence clearly everybody who could succeed him sounds like they would be against you. How long do you think you could stay in SA?
“No, I think again this is an immaterial question. I want to stay in SA forever. I love this country. I’m proudly South African and I respect all my fellow South Africans. I’m a real, live example of financial liberation and I’m playing my part and I’m doing a very ethical job.”
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