Hawks start probe into Gupta e-mails

But uncertainty over what exactly is being investigated

Acting Hawks head Lieutenant-General Yolisa Matakata has instituted an inquiry into the leaking of thousands of e-mails between members of the Gupta family and their associates.

This comes as Deputy Finance Minister Sfiso Buthelezi and Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane were implicated yesterday in fresh allegations of being “captured” by the Gupta family.

Buthelezi and his brother Nkanyiso‚ the leaked e-mails show‚ benefited from contracts worth at least R150-million from the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) – while he was chairman of the rail operator.

They also show how the Guptas considered buying one of their leading critics‚ the Mail & Guardian newspaper‚ in a James Bond-styled mission named “Project M”.

At the time of the e-mail, the number of articles printed in the Mail & Guardian (M&G) revealing the inner workings of the Gupta family empire numbered in the dozens, with the paper among the family’s leading media critics.

It also emerged yesterday that Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo’s stay at a luxury hotel in Dubai in 2015 was secured by Sahara Computers‚ a company owned by the Gupta family.

The Sowetan revealed that according to invoices‚ Dlodlo – who recently replaced Faith Muthambi in the ministry after a cabinet reshuffle – stayed at The Oberoi Hotel.

The documents show that even though Dlodlo’s stay was booked by Sahara Computers‚ her bills were settled by controversial businessman Fana Hlongwane.

Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that the inquiry was launched last week but did not say what exactly was being investigated.

“Let’s give them space to work on the matter without any due influence‚” he said.

The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) said it had written to Matakata yesterday asking for an update on what the Hawks were investigating.

“We need the Hawks to act and they should be investigating these things and they should be verifying some of the information that is in the e-mails‚ saying well if this is true then this constitutes a criminal offence and therefore we have to take it further‚” Lawson Naidoo said.

He said if the Hawks failed to investigate this matter‚ the unit had to be held accountable.

On Sunday, City Press reported that law enforcement agencies were intensifying investigations into allegations that the Guptas had moved billions of rand out of South Africa.

The newspaper said it had obtained documents showing that the Hawks were investigating former Eskom group chief executive Brian Molefe and President Jacob Zuma’s son, Duduzane, who has been a key figure in the tranche of e-mails.

The leaked e-mails between members of the Gupta family and associates detail the extent to which the Gupta family had captured politicians and state entities.

Besides eyeing the M&G, the e-mails from January 28 last year also show that Zimbabwe’s Alpha Media – which publishes three national papers – News Day‚ The Standard and the Zimbabwe Independent – was also in the family’s sights.

Referring to the Mail & Guardian in an e-mail with the subject line, “Some early thoughts on Project M”, sent from former Oakbay chief executive Nazeem Howa to Rajesh “Tony” Gupta‚ Howa speaks about the possible acquisition of the M&G and its sister titles “which are indeed brands which have great recognition factor in South Africa across all sectors of society”.

Howa writes: “The newspaper is champion a position that President Zuma is corrupt and should be relieved of his responsibility. They have made it their focus to find ways to support the #Zumamustfall campaign and the family and our group have become convenience pawns in their strategy to unseat the president.”

He then lists key statistics surrounding circulation and advertising revenue for the newspaper which had seen a decline due to its editorial position‚ Howa charged.

He ended the e-mail by saying an estimated price would be R20-million “which I would argue is not a good deal at all”.

Trevor Ncube‚ M&G Media deputy executive chairman and publisher of the M&G‚ is also chairman of Apha Media.

Ncube said yesterday the M&G had not changed ownership since 2002.

“As normal with any business we get approached by entrepreneurs expressing an interest in acquiring our business.”

Asked if he would have declined a purchase offer from the Gupta family‚ Ncube said: “The Mail & Guardian is a national institution of which we are mere custodians. It would be reckless and irresponsible to off-load the business to anybody likely to undermine the 30-year-plus legacy of fiercely independent journalism.” – TMG Digital/BusinessLIVE/ SowetanLIVE

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