South Africa suspends protocol officer over Guptagate

Durban, May 2 (IANS) South Africa Thursday suspended its chief of state protocol Bruce Koloane following an incident in which a private chartered plane bringing guests to a wedding in an Indian origin family landed at an air force base.

International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane sent Koalane on compulsory leave with immediate effect, the South African Press Association (SAPA) reported.

A huge controversy broke out after the aircraft – an A330-200 of Indian carrier Jet Airways – carrying guests for a wedding in the prominent Gupta family – landed at Waterkloof air base near Pretoria Tuesday.

“Preliminary investigations have revealed the need to probe the circumstances under which the clearances for the aircraft to land were secured,” the report quoted international relations and cooperation department spokesman Clayson Monyela as saying.

According to Gupta family spokesman Haranath Ghosh, the Waterkloof air base had to be used as the privately-owned Lanseria International Airport, northwest of Johannesburg, could not accommodate an aircraft of that size.

But who actually gave permission to the Guptas to use the defence facility is still not clear, with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), under which the airport falls, saying that it was not aware of any such permission being given.

India’s Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa, Armstrong Changsan, said that the high commission had sought permission from the South African authorities to land the chartered aircraft as it was carrying some Indian government officials.

According to Monyela, neither the international relations and co-operation department nor the presidency granted executive authority for the aircraft to land at the base.

Internal investigations into the matter will start immediately, he added.

Meanwhile, the four-day extravaganza got off in style at the five-star Palace of the Lost City hotel in Sun City Tuesday evening with guests being treated to a fireworks display followed by a sumptuous dinner, local media reported.

The bride, Vega Gupta, is the daughter of Achla Gupta, the only sister to the Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – who own the New Age newspaper and Sahara Computers. The groom is India-born Aakash Jahajgarhia.

According to the Independent Online, the guests were welcomed by a shower of exotic flowers and traditional South African dancers.

Turbans, scarves and bangles were offered to the high profile gathering. The evening was hosted by Bollywood actors Mona Singh and Hussain Kuwajerwala.

The wedding ceremony is scheduled for Thursday.

Another report, quoting sources, said that South African President Jacob Zuma will be the guest of honour at the Gupta wedding though, previously, presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj had said that the event was not in the president’s diary.

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