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Gigaba Takes On The Oppenheimers Over Luxury Joburg Airport Terminal, Denies Gupta Influence

You'll probably never get to use the seven star terminal but it's important that you understand the fight to control it.

20/01/2017 07:45 SAST | Updated 20/01/2017 12:07 SAST

A curious case continues at the high court in Pretoria on Friday that goes to the heart of two competing narratives in the country at the moment: state capture by the likes of the Guptas versus the continued legacy and influence of powerful white capital interests.

Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba has slammed the Oppenheimers family's requests for their own port of entry at their luxury international airport terminal in Johannesburg in an affidavit that that will be submitted in court later and The Huffington Post South Africa has seen. The minister also denied he previously okayed it.

Meanwhile, the wealthy family has alleged in previous court documents that the Guptas tried to use their influence over Denel to hijack the project, detailing explosive alleged testimonies by two pilots for the Gupta family, who are central to the state capture narrative.

The Oppenheimers were "deliberately trying to feed into this silly idea that all black ministers are captured".Mayihlome Tshwete

It is an allegation that the Home Affairs Department furiously denies.

Home affairs spokesperson Mayihlome Tshwete previously said the Oppenheimers were "deliberately trying to feed into this silly idea that all black ministers were captured. It's an easy accusation to make of any black person in government. It's nonsensical. It's offensive. It's a borderline racist accusation."

The affidavit itself offers another defence: it points out that the request started with Gigaba's predecessor at home affairs, Naledi Pandor, with proof of her own reservations on the project. It includes the Oppenheimers first request on March 25, 2014 regarding the uber-luxury terminal, and a letter Pandor wrote back on May 2 2014 raising her own concerns. The inference is obvious: was Pandor captured too?

The legal papers will be filed at court between 10am and 3pm on Friday by both Gigaba's legal team and lawyers for Fireblade, the Oppenheimer family's aviation company, who are requesting permission to control a port of entry at the state-of-the-art international terminal at the airport.

It has VIP suites, day bedrooms, boardrooms and a bistro serving organic produce grown on the premises.

The terminal has already been operating as a super luxurious domestic terminal for the very rich, since 2014. It has VIP suites, day bedrooms, boardrooms, a bistro serving organic produce grown on the premises, walls adorned with original art works for sale from the Everard Read Gallery, a massage spa and a state-of-the-art medical facility, according to a Sunday Times report.

But the Oppenheimers have had plans to take it to the next level with international travel: a potentially enormously lucrative sell for celebrities and dignitaries. The terminal is built on property leased from Denel and they claim that the state-owned company, who is in business with a close associate of the Gupta family in Asia, influenced Gigaba to block their request. The theory goes that as the business haemorrhages money -- it pays Denel R1.4-million a month in rent and salaries according to the Sunday Times -- the Guptas will be able to swoop in for a piece of the action as a "preferred BEE partner" or wrest it entirely away from Fireblade as buyers.

Gigaba's affidavit again denies these allegations and raises concerns around security should a private family operate a port of entry into the country. In questions put to Tshwete by HuffPost SA, he said that no other port of entry is privately owned in the country. "Not one that accepts international flights and is designated for one particular company or family."

There are also concerns around moving money in and out of the country.

There is the spectre raised of an enormously powerful and rich family running something of a parallel government service, and setting a precedent for others. "What stops the next wealthy person from acquiring another one, and the next?" asked Tshwete.

Indeed, that may already be happening. HuffPost SA saw a letter from another powerful South African businessperson, former Shoprite CEO Whitey Basson, to home affairs requesting a port of entry for another luxury airport terminal in Cape Town.

A representative from Shoprite said Basson was not available for an interview.

Home affairs claims that the Oppenheimers would be able to control who flies in and out of the country, creating a security risk and potentially discriminating against other paying customers. There are also concerns around money moving in and out of the country. In 2009, wealthy South African businessperson Christo Wiese was found with nearly R7 million in his luggage en-route to Luxembourg.

Wiese and Nicky Oppenheimer, former chairperson of De Beers diamond mining company, rank as the first and second richest South Africans respectively according to Forbes Magazine's list of world billionaires in 2016.

The Oppenheimers have previously argued that Gigaba had initially agreed to the port of entry and gone back on his word.

HuffPost SA has approached the Oppenheimer family for comment and will update this article once it is received.

Asked whether the home affairs officials, who would be present should a port of entry be allowed, would not prevent untoward activity, Tshwete said: "There are still certain concerns around private airlines in terms of clearance as opposed to commercial airlines who have different responsibilities in terms of being processed and things like that."

Meanwhile, the Oppenheimers have previously argued that Gigaba had initially agreed to the port of entry and gone back on his word, allegedly under influence from Denel and the Guptas.

The Sunday Times reported:

"After a year of toing and froing, the Oppenheimers appeared to have won Gigaba's support. At a minuted meeting on January 28, attached to Fireblade's affidavit, Gigaba told the Oppenheimers he'd signed a letter of approval for their facility. The meeting was attended by Nicky Oppenheimer and two Fireblade representatives, as well as four senior home affairs officials, including Gigaba and his acting chief of staff.

On October 27, Gigaba made a U-turn and wrote to say he'd rejected the Oppenheimer application.

His decision was mostly based on security concerns raised by landlord Denel, his objection to an international port of entry being reserved for private use, and the need for public consultation."

In his new affidavit on Friday, Gigaba denies that he granted approval on the meeting on January 28, 2016, calling the version of the meeting put forward by the Oppenheimers' representatives "simply untrue".

As the court case unfolds that tug-of-war between two powerful business families will continue.

The Oppenheimers have previously provided testimony from one of the Gupta pilots, who would not testify formally for fear of their safety, overhearing Denel acting CEO Zwelakhe Ntshepe tell Ajay Gupta's son, Kamal Gupta, that "they do not have to worry as Fireblade will never get international status".

Tshwete dismissed the allegation of Gupta influence again in an interview with HuffPost SA, pointing to the pressure the Oppenheimers were exerting to get their way.

"It's almost to say if you're not captured by us then you must be captured by them. If you're not bending to our undue influence, you must be bending to another person's undue influence."