In 1993 when the Gupta patriarch sent his three sons and their families to Durban from dusty Saharanpur in Northern India, he said they would flourish because “South Africa is the new America.” But even in his wildest dreams, Gupta Senior wouldn’t have believed it possible in two decades to transform worldly assets of R1.3m into billions of rand. But the Guptas found a ready audience in bribable politicians “encouraged” to reciprocate through sweetheart deals on State licences and assets. Although the new Modi Government is starting to clean it up, this approach was common in the Gupta homeland. Indeed, after discovering the modus operandi on visiting there, an initially eager Warren Buffett said he would never do business in India. After Gupta family’s midnight flit, SA media has mostly gone cold on the Gupta story. Not City Press, whose outstanding editor Ferial Haffajee sent a colleague to Dubai to pick up on the next stage in their story. And what Susan Comrie discovered, raises new flags. The wealth amassed in SA by the Guptas far exceeds what most imagined – enough to acquire the most expensive house in this outrageously overpriced pocket of Middle Eastern wealth. Leaving aside other assets, you have to wonder how on earth the family got permission from SA Exchange Control to export their new mansion’s almost half a billion rand purchase price. If not, how on earth did they move so much money undetected? As the City Press team reminds us, the Gupta story didn’t end when they left for Dubai. For South African authorities – and the family’s close friends in high political office – it was only the start. – Alec Hogg
By Susan Comrie
From Saxonwold to the UAE, the Guptas are making themselves comfortable in the equivalent of Beverly Hills, and they’re building a Hindu temple at a cost of R200m in India.
When villa L35 in Dubai’s Emirates Hills came onto the market in March 2015, it was advertised as “awaiting a VVIP … with deep pockets”.
With a listing price of 110 million dirham (R448 million) it was, at the time, the most expensive house in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Decorated in marble and gold, and with 10 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, nine reception rooms, a double grand staircase, hand-painted dome, space for 11 cars, and chandeliers in virtually every room, the house is extravagant even by Dubai’s standards.
This residence, situated in “Dubai’s most expensive post code” was confirmed by two separate sources to be the Guptas’ new house. It’s a world away from Saxonwold, Johannesburg.
Elaborate gold crests bolted to both entrance gates bear the words “Gupta” and “Saharanpur” as well as the website address, www.singhala.com.
Although singhala.com is not live, records show that the website was registered to the Guptas’ Sahara Computers in Johannesburg by Ajay Gupta’s son, Kamal Singhala Gupta, in June last year.
Reports suggesting Gupta's may have bought mansion in Dubai reinforces concerns they may have illegally moved assets out of SA says DA MP
— SAfm news (@SAfmnews) May 8, 2016
As far as the other names go, Saharanpur is the town in Uttar Pradesh, India, where the Gupta brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh grew up, and where they recently started construction on a Hindu temple that will cost more than R200 million.
A month ago, the family hastily boarded their Bombadier Global 6000 jet on an 11pm flight to Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport.
At the time, sources close to the family told City Press that the family was “checking out” and heading to start a new life in Dubai. Rajesh Gupta, sources said, had been living in Emirates Hills for some time.
Flight records show that the Gupta jet, ZS-OAK, owned by their company Westdawn Investments, has spent a month hopping between Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, Antalya in Turkey (where Kamal was recently married), and India.
Then, on Monday morning, ZS-OAK touched down at OR Tambo International Airport, before heading to Cape Town on Tuesday.
It spent less than 24 hours there before taking off again and disappearing from flight records.
City Press emailed a detailed list of questions last week to Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa, family spokesperson Gary Naidoo, and both their personal assistants.
Yesterday Naidoo responded saying: “We find it astounding that at a time when 7 500 Oakbay jobs are at risk, the media continue to take great interest in the whereabouts of the Gupta family … Let us be crystal clear here. We will not be providing a running commentary on the private life of the Gupta family. They, like any other family, have a right to privacy and a family life. We ask you to respect these rights.”
Emirates Hills has a reputation as the most expensive suburb in Dubai, but “per square metre it isn’t”, an estate agent pointed out.
The size of the properties, built around the five-star The Address Montgomerie Dubai hotel and golf course, dilute the price per square metre compared to apartments in the Burj Khalifa tower, the world’s tallest building, at 828 metres.
There, a five-bedroom penthouse is on the market for R416 million.
In October last year, a mansion in Emirates Hills, where the Guptas live, was sold for R380 million.
City Press visited Dubai’s Department of Land to try to confirm whether it was villa L35 that had reached this extravagant price tag, but we were laughed off by a clerk on the first floor who said that, in Dubai, these records weren’t public.
Knight Frank, the agency that sold villa L35, refused to confirm or deny that the Guptas had bought it.
Despite the high price tags, the luxury villas in Emirates Hills aren’t hidden away down long driveways. This is, after all, Dubai’s answer to Beverly Hills, and its moneyed facade is on display, right up against the road.
Halfway down the palm-tree-lined boulevard, a two-toned metallic brown and white Rolls Royce Ghost is parked in the driveway. It’s not that these homes don’t have garages, but surprisingly few luxury cars use them.
Property in Dubai has become a safe-haven, like gold. Estate agents and journalists City Press spoke to recounted stories of “dirty” money arriving in suitcases from places like Russia to buy properties in cash, and skyscrapers being built but never let because their sole purpose is to park the money.
Nicholas Shaxson, author of Treasure Islands: tax havens and the men who stole the world, famously called Dubai “one of the filthiest spots on the planet” due to its attitude towards financial transparency.
Most things aren’t public in Dubai. Even the buildings are elusive – huge skyscrapers of reflective glass have names like Indigo Tower and Fortune Tower but they give no clue to what goes on inside.
Unlike South Africa, few companies and their directors are listed on a public register, there’s no disclosure of beneficial ownership, and property records can’t be obtained without a power of attorney.
In Johannesburg, there’s no sign that the Guptas intend selling their Saxonwold homes. Even when ZS-OAK has been out of the country, Sahara Estate’s gates have remained open. – City Press