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JOHANNESBURG — Respected News24 investigative journalists Pieter-Louis Myburgh and Angelique Serrao flew to Dubai recently in search of the Guptas’ elusive companies in that city. In an ironic twist, it’s what they didn’t find which will surprise many South Africans. According to the pair, six Gupta-linked companies registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are simply just shell companies. The letterbox entities – alleged used for syphoning Saffers’ taxes – have no real physical business premises or employees. And in a fascinating video filmed by the duo, Myburgh and Serrao are pictured going from one Gupta Dubai office to the next and finding nothing. Considering the UAE’s strict media laws, what Myburgh and Serrao did was nothing more than sheer bravery. What they’ve discovered, in turn, is probably one of the most important revelations in the Gupta saga so far. I’ve also interviewed the two journalists and you can read the backstory to this expose by clicking here. – Gareth van Zyl
It’s one of the world’s leading business and financial hubs and it’s here, in the sweltering desert metropolis of Dubai that the infamous Gupta family established a secondary business base outside South Africa.
But, beneath the veneer of exotic cars, popular tourist attractions and shiny office towers, Dubai offers businesspeople like the Guptas even more valuable perks – financial anonymity and confidentiality.
We’ve come to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to follow the money. That is, the hundreds of millions of Rands in kickbacks and taxpayers’ money that was diverted from dodgy government contracts in South Africa, to Gupta-owned and linked companies in and around Dubai.
Our search leads us away from the malls and office blocks to a large industrial area, nearly 50kms to the north of the city. The Hamriyah Free Zone is supposed to be home to JJ Trading, which deals in scrap metal according to this Gupta-linked company’s website. But scrap metal, by all accounts, is not JJ Trading’s main area of focus. Documents in the Gupta Leaks emails detailed how JJ Trading was set to receive nearly R1bn in kickbacks from China South Rail (CSR). These so-called success fees came in the wake of CSR winning contracts worth more than R20bn from South Africa’s state-owned rail operator – Transnet – to supply South Africa with new trains. By May 2015, CSR had already paid JJ Trading R706m according to a questionable agreement, entered into between CSR and Salim Essa, a known Gupta associate.
Financial records in the Gupta Leaks have also shown how another Chinese manufacturer – Shanghai Zhenhua Heavy Industries – paid JJ Trading nearly R55m after it clinched a R1.2bn contract to supply cranes to Transnet. Given the fact that JJ Trading is a company with revenues of at least R760m (thanks to the Transnet contracts), it came as a surprise to us that no-one at the Hamriyah Free Zone had ever heard of the company.
Under UAE media laws journalists can be arrested and jailed for reports that may harm the country’s reputation. We had also been warned not to ask questions about companies in our official capacities as journalists. We therefore used hidden cameras in some situations.
Are you JJ Trading, yes JJT.
Where is it?
In the Free Zone.
It’s clocked 1G Road – JJ Trading.
This guard makes it clear that there’s no company called JJ Trading inside the industrial complex.
So, there’s no company like that here, JJ Trading?
Not that you’ve heard of?
Okay, thank you very much.
In 2013, after JJ Trading had received its first kickback from Shanghai Zhenhua, the supplier of Transnet’s trains, it transferred nearly R10m to another Gupta-linked company called Global Corporation. Gupta Leaks documents have also shown that R26m from the Free State Government’s failed Free State’s dairy project was channelled through Global Corporation and was eventually used to help pay for the Guptas’ lavish wedding party in Sun City.
We hit the road again, hoping to find someone who could explain to us why so much money from SA’s public coffers had ended up in the accounts of Gupta-linked companies in the UAE.
Global Corporation’s address, as captured in various Gupta Leaks documents takes us to this building next to a lagoon, some 20kms North of Downtown Dubai but the guard at the reception assures us that this is a residential tower and that there is no company called Global Corporation operating out of the building.
Are you sure there’s not a Global Corp?
No, there is not, not in these towers here.
Global Corp. LLC?
No, there are no companies. You can ask there, they will show you – they will know exactly.
Yes, okay. Thank you.
He explains that we are not the first to come here in search of the company and suggests we try elsewhere. Like JJ Trading, Global Corporation appears to exist only on paper.
We stick to the money trail. This time travelling to a light industrial zone, near Dubai’s City Centre. We’re looking for Fidelity Enterprises, a Gupta company through which R31m from the Free State dairy project was laundered, all the way back to the Guptas’ Oakbay investments in SA but according to business owners in the area the address for Fidelity as contained in invoices and other documents in the Gupta Leaks – does not exist.
Fidelity Enterprises appears to be yet another Gupta shell, and on it goes.
Are you SAS Global Services Limited, 12A06?
Yes, GBS Global.
When we visit the address for SAS Global Services, a Gupta-linked company that would have been the ultimate beneficiary for yet another Free State Government contract. We instead, find a firm that specialises in registering and incorporating new companies in the UAE.
We are GBS.
Yes, Global Business Services.
The name didn’t maybe change or something?
You can just check.
Which office number?
12A, this one.
12A and what’s that?
No, it’s Global Business Services.
Is it the wrong office? Oh, okay.
A visit to the address for SKG Holdings, which is thought to stand for Shiv Kumar Gupta, the father of the Gupta brothers, yields similar results.
And the address?
And the address you’re going too?
Yes, that one. Thank you.
Okay, thanks. Let’s make sure we’re in the right lift this time.
The company shares an address with Intertrust, another Dubai based firm that registers companies in the UAE. An Intertrust employee confirms that SKG Holdings is one of their clients but she cannot provide us with an actual address for the Gupta-linked company.
We’re actually looking for SKG.
Yes, SKG Holdings.
Please have a seat. I believe it must be one of our clients because we do corporate services. We set up companies in DIFC. So, during the registration they use our contact details in the initial stage.
Oh, the address and everything, yes.
Yes so, now if they have changed that that depends on them when they change the address.
Apparently, we’re not the only ones who’ve been looking for SKG Holdings.
Would it be possible to look at what their current address is then?
I think somebody came here yesterday as well, for SKG Holdings, right.
It’s not in our system. It’s the same address and telephone number as well.
Which is your address and telephone number?
Yes, it still exists on the same system. The DIFC portal – you can check that in the DIFC portal.
On the website?
Yes, it’s the same address as what we have as well so, if I check our system it will show the same address.
Yes, that’s what we’ve also got here.
The closest we come to encountering a living sole at one of the Guptas’ Dubai shells is when we visit a company called Griffin Line General Trading. The company is located in the city’s central business district. According to its website it trades in rice and spices. However, judging by invoices in the Gupta Leaks, Griffin Line General Trading is primarily being used as a wallet for settling the Guptas’ bills with hotels and travel agents.
We knock but there’s no one home. Someone else had left a friendly message on the company’s printed sign. An office worker from another company on the same floor tells us that they sometimes see a woman at Griffin Line but this time around we aren’t as lucky.
After a week of looking for answers that the Guptas’ UAE companies it is clear that these businesses are simply smokescreens. A network of empty shells designed to conceal and launder the proceeds of dodgy government contracts in SA.
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