The Gupta influence network reached into the heart of the Presidency, the #Guptaleaks show, drawing into their web at least three people who were just a whisper away from President Jacob Zuma. They targeted officials holding positions of personal trust closest to Zuma, offering gifts, favours and business deals.
Even the deputy president's office was fair game. Investigations show they zeroed in on some of the nation's most sensitively placed staff, including the head of the Presidential Protection Service as well as Zuma's chief of staff, his private secretary and a chief director in the deputy president's office.
In certain instances, some of these officials appear to have returned favours, potentially subverting their positions in the Union Buildings for the Guptas' benefit.
The fact that Saxonwold's most influential family attempted to recruit people close to the president raises questions about the nature of their relationship with Zuma: were they trying to spy on him? Or were they putting in place a back channel allowing him to communicate with them via trusted intermediaries?
Since the #GuptaLeaks provide mere glimpses of these relationships, only the president, the Gupta brothers and the officials in question know the whole truth. The four officials we feature here have all denied impropriety or said they carried out their duties with professionalism.
One official, however, said she would "be more vigilant and judicious in professional relationships" in future. The Presidency and the Guptas did not respond to detailed questions.
Major-General Muzingaye Mxolisi Dladla: head of Presidential Protection Service (2010-date) and long-time bodyguard to Zuma
As the Scorpions anti-corruption unit were raiding Zuma's Johannesburg home in August 2005, two vehicles screeched to a halt outside the gates. Out poured several automatic rifle-toting members of the elite Presidential Protection Unit.
A tense armed stand-off ensued between Zuma's protectors and his would-be prosecutors. Zuma – then a private citizen – was entitled to protection by this elite South African Police Service unit, who guard the country's current and former presidents and deputy presidents together with their families.
Among the protectors who rushed to Zuma's side that day was Dladla.
Ever since then, their fortunes have closely tracked one another. Zuma escaped the corruption charges and became president; Dladla rose rapidly through the police ranks to head the Presidential Protection Service, as it is now called. Both are controversial figures.
Zuma's indiscretions are well known, but Dladla escaped attempted murder charges in 2010 after he was accused of spraying three Uzi submachine gun rounds at an elderly motorist in Durban who got in the way of Zuma's blue light cavalcade.
Zuma paid tribute to Dladla at a funeral in 2011, thanking him and other members of the so-called Echo Squad for standing by him during his darkest days in politics, including thwarting an alleged assassination attempt when he was deputy president.
The relationship has only grown closer: investigative magazine Noseweek alleged in 2012 that Dladla commanded a secret spy unit within the protection service, tasked with monitoring Zuma's rivals and ensuring his re-election as ANC president.
It now appears that Zuma's friends, the Guptas, became equally enamoured of Dladla - and rewarded him for his specialist services.
An early clue of their relationship includes an August 2010 email chain from the #GuptaLeaks showing that a Sahara sister company intended to send Dladla and his then wife, long-serving Presidency official Mogotladi "Mo" Mogano (see below) on a weekend getaway to the Maldives.
Both Dladla and Mogano told us they never travelled to the Maldives, with Mogano confirming that "whilst Sahara did make an offer, my then partner and I did not receive tickets and did not undertake the offered travel".
However, the emails indicate that Gupta executive Ashu Chawla went as far as requesting a Johannesburg travel agent to "issue and email me the [air] ticket" for the couple, quoted at R9 290 per person on Emirates.
In February 2012, a company in which Dladla is a sole director was registered to a property owned by another Gupta-linked company, Confident Concept. The property is also listed as Dladla's residential address over a number of years.
A source, who asked not to be named for their own safety, told us that the Guptas at one stage prepared documents transferring legal ownership to Dladla, but then the property burned down.
A second source in the Presidency independently recalled how a house where Mogano was living with Dladla in 2010-11 had burned down.
Mogano referred our queries about the property to Dladla, who claimed that his company never traded but remained silent on the circumstances in which he appears to have made extensive use of a Gupta-owned property.
What use did the Guptas make of their connections with Dladla? An unsigned 2013 affidavit unearthed in the #GuptaLeaks shows Tony Gupta explaining to the police how he procured VIP blue light escort services for the family's wedding guests.
The Guptas were in trouble because the black BMW escort vehicles they used had been illegally fitted with blue lights and false number plates.
Gupta's affidavit, submitted as part of the police investigation into the wedding debacle, makes the astonishing claim that the president's top bodyguard was responsible for procuring the illegal VIP escort service.
Gupta states: "I requested General Dladla to advise me on road transport security under circumstances explained to him ... where guests arrived at Waterkloof Air Force Base and had to travel by car through rural areas to Sun City."
"I indicated that I would pay for these services without any reservation. I am aware of an initiative within the South African Police Service where members of the public can insist on protection/control services at a prescribed fee.
"General Dladla requested me to furnish him with information and inter alia the flight schedules of the guests," Gupta states, after which Dladla appears to have taken care of the Guptas' needs.
"On or about 30 April 2013, I noted certain protection vehicles and members of the SAPS accompanying the group of guests from Waterkloof ... to Sun City. I did not find this awkward given the requests mentioned," says Gupta.
"I expected an invoice from the SAPS for the services rendered ... On or about 30 April 2013, I received an invoice from a company called S & M Transport ... indicating a request for payment for an amount in excess of R500 000. I did not expect an invoice from S&M Transport and I do not know who S&M Transport is. I further do not know who Salomie Manamela is and I had no arrangement with the aforesaid person to send me an invoice for 'escort services'."
Gupta, who was in serious trouble at the time, may have been playing dumb but the identity of S&M Transport and Manamela remains a mystery.
At the time of the government enquiry into the Waterkloof landing debacle, then-justice minister Jeff Radebe told reporters that a criminal case had been brought against "S & M Transportation" for illegal blue light escort vehicles.
But that was the end of the matter: there is no mention of the company or Dladla's alleged role in securing its services in the inquiry's final report.
Responding to our questions, Dladla flatly contradicted Gupta, saying he played no part in "any logistic arrangements either at Sun City or at Waterkloof Air Base".
However, he confirmed that he "provided an affidavit to SAPS which set out the facts as part of an investigation which was held". This investigation's findings have never been made public, but all indications are that both Dladla and Gupta wriggled off the hook.
Like a cat with nine lives – again, mirroring his boss, Zuma – there is one final similarity. Michael Hulley, Zuma's private legal advisor, prepared Dladla's responses to our questions.
Denying that he had been captured by the Guptas, or acted to further their interests, Dladla said: "I have performed my duties in relation to President Zuma as a member of SAPS with the discipline and professionalism that it deserves."
Lakela Kaunda: deputy director-general and head of private office of the president (2009-); chief operating officer in the Presidency (2014-)
Lakela Kaunda is Zuma's fiercely loyal chief of staff, who has worked beside him in various roles since the mid-1990s.
On the fourth occasion Kaunda met Gupta, the email calendar shows a "Bruce" attending – a possible reference to Bruce Koloane, the then chief director of state protocol.
Koloane subsequently attended a meeting in February 2013 with Gupta, as well as the then-transport minister and the acting head of the airports authority, to discuss the possibility of hosting "an elaborate welcoming ceremony" at OR Tambo International Airport, according to the Waterkloof inquiry report.
Kaunda's own meetings with Gupta shortly before this raise questions about her role in the Waterkloof landing debacle.
Koloane was subsequently forced to resign for her role in facilitating the Gupta wedding plane landing at Waterkloof air base, and several military officers who approved the landing later testified they believed instructions had emanated from "Number One" – a codename for Zuma.
Kaunda does not dispute the meetings with Gupta, only that Koloane was not present.
He could not be contacted to verify this. Kaunda also denied playing a role in facilitating the Guptas' aircraft landing needs, saying, "I actually discovered about the wedding landing at Waterkloof when Radio 702 broke the story on the day of the landing itself. I was totally unaware of it before then."
Be this as it may, the Guptas were keen at this point to do business with Kaunda. Between the third and fourth successive meetings, as scheduled in Gupta's email calendar, Kaunda ceded her 100% share in Ntomb'nkulu Investments CC to her son, Siphesihle.
She then forwarded confirmation of the new shareholding to Gupta on 23 January, stating that "we will use this vehicle".
Asked why she had ceded her shares to her son, and for what activity would Ntomb'nkulu be a "vehicle", Kaunda repeated the explanation she had given to the Sunday Times in June: "I initially thought of closing down the company as I was not using it, but then felt it would be cost effective to keep as it already existed and we had paid for the establishment. I then decided to cede it to my son," she said.
"When they [the Guptas] said they wanted to offer a business opportunity and asked if I had a company that could be utilised, I then sent that email about Ntomb'nkulu ... the offer of going into business with the family was declined and the matter was never pursued."
But the #GuptaLeaks throw up an intriguing coda. There is an unsigned company resolution dated March 22, 2013 – two months down the line – in which Ntomb'nkulu is to receive 6 shares in Islandsite Investments 255 (a 5% stake).
At the time, Islandsite 255's joint directors were Tony Gupta and Zuma's son, Duduzane. Islandsite 255 is Gupta-controlled Oakbay Resources and Energy's BEE partner in Shiva Uranium.
In response, Kaunda said: "It is the first time actually that I hear of that cession of the shares or that resolution. Ntomb'nkulu Investments does not own shares in any company whatsoever."
Indeed, according to Islandsite 255's share register, the intended transfer does not appear to have happened.
Dixie Investments, the company meant to cede the shares to Ntomb'nkulu, retained its stake. For now, at least, the public will have to take Kaunda's denials on trust.
Delsey Sithole: private secretary in the private office of the president (2009-2012); director: events and protocol in the Presidency (2012 to date)
Zuma's private secretary coordinates both his official and private diaries, and so knows what the president is doing when his formal duties are over for the day.
It is a unique special position of trust and responsibility, which entails liaising with the president's security detail after hours to ensure he is safe.
The president's private secretary is also a regular traveller as part of the president's delegation on overseas trips. The woman Zuma entrusted with the task at the outset of his Presidency, Delsey Sithole, was very soon in the Guptas' crosshairs.
Financial reconciliation records from the #GuptaLeaks indicate that Sithole received cash amounts totalling R8 310.78 from a Gupta company in June 2009, just a month after Zuma became president.
It is not known what the payment was for, and Sithole did not provide any clarification in her response to our detailed questions.
Fast-forward a year, Gupta brother Rajesh invited Sithole and her teenage son to watch the opening match of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
A spreadsheet contained in the #GuptaLeaks shows that Sithole found herself amidst illustrious company in the luxurious Sahara suite in the iconic Soccer City calabash. Her inclusion hints at the development of a special relationship with the Guptas.
The family's other guests for the match included India's wealthiest businessman Mukesh Ambani and his family, as well as one of Zuma's wives, his son Edward, and some of Zuma's most trusted spies – the head of police crime intelligence, Richard Mdluli and his sidekick Nkosana "Killer" Ximba.
Sithole did not dispute her presence that day, telling us that, "I received many offers of hospitality from various companies during the 2010 FIFA World Cup."
Fast-forward another two years, to early May 2013, and Sithole publicly displayed her loyalty to the Guptas. Despite the outpouring of public anger about the family's brazen takeover of Waterkloof military air base to land a planeload of overseas wedding guests, Sithole crowed on her Facebook page: "Its [sic] good to be at Sun City. Some people are being tjatjarag [over-excited]. I am enjoying the wedding."
By this stage, Sithole had been removed from her position as private secretary and redeployed to head the events and protocol division in the Presidency. A source in the Presidency recalled a "security incident" involving Zuma's diary that had occurred in 2011, after which Sithole was moved.
Details about the incident, including a rumour that the Guptas had accessed confidential details about Zuma's diary via Sithole, could not be independently verified.
Sithole did not respond to the allegation specifically, but said: "In my previous capacity as private secretary, I interacted with various stakeholders on a number of occasions, involving various activities and my interaction with the Gupta family was in that capacity. Such interaction never promoted any unethical activity."
She added that her move to protocol and events happened at her request, for "career growth and advancement" reasons.
But even after she moved out of Zuma's private office, the #GuptaLeaks suggest that Sithole and Tony Gupta retained ties. For example, in September 2012, Sithole sent him the guest list for a Jacob Zuma Foundation fundraising dinner. The list includes a number of prominent Nigerian businessmen with investments in South Africa.
How Sithole obtained this it is unclear, as are her motives for disclosing it. Was she moonlighting on social events for Zuma's private foundation and leaking intelligence to the Guptas about Zuma's would-be private benefactors?
Sithole did not provide any answers.
Coincidentally (or perhaps not), Sithole was one of several Presidency officials close to Zuma who interacted with Tony Gupta in the busy months leading up to the Gupta wedding in April 2013 (See Muzingaye Mxolisi Dladla, and Lakela Kaunda, above.)
The #GuptaLeaks emails show Tony Gupta accepting a diary appointment with one "Delicy Sithole" at Sahara's Midrand offices in January 2013. Notably, this meeting was scheduled around the time of a flurry of meetings between Gupta and Kaunda (Sithole's former boss in Zuma's private office).
Sithole did not dispute that the meeting took place as scheduled.
A few days after this meeting, Sithole sent Chawla a CV for one Phatse Justice Piitso - a former SACP provincial secretary in Limpopo and South African ambassador to Cuba between 2009 and 2011 - requesting that Chawla "please forward to Tony".
Again, Sithole is silent on the purpose of her email. As for Piitso, he was - or was soon to be - Sithole's husband. Sithole told us that she sent the CV "in good faith to a stakeholder and acquaintance [Gupta] and there was never an encouragement of untoward expectations".
Piitso said that he has sent his CV to many people, but denied that he got "any employment from the Gupta family or anything else from Mr Tony Gupta". However, Piitso has cropped up recently as a pro-Gupta commentator.
In 2016, Bell Pottinger spin doctor Victoria Geoghegan shared Piitso's name with a MoneyWeb journalist, as part of a list of "people who had agreed to talk on economic apartheid".
The Guptas had hired the London-based PR firm on a monthly £100 000-plus (R1.5m-plus) contract, aimed at distracting public attention from the family's murky business dealings.
Other pro-Gupta commentators and luminaries on the Bell Pottinger list included Andile Mngxitama, Ben Ngubane, Kebby Maphatsoe, Tshepo Kgadima and Lindiwe Zulu.
Earlier in 2017, Piitso also penned an eloquent defence of Brian Molefe, who had been exposed by the public protector as one of the Guptas' accomplices in the nexus of state capture.
Piitso lavished praise on the former Eskom chief executive – then on his way to Parliament as an MP – calling him "one of the finest young leaders our movement has ever produced".
In language that has become synonymous with pro-Gupta lobby, Piitso urged Molefe to "take forward the revolutionary programme of the second phase of our transition for radical transformation".
Piitso ignored our question about his inclusion in the Bell Pottinger list, but said: "The revolutionary concept of white monopoly capital is not an invention of the Gupta family. It is a concept which seeks to define the development of monopoly imperialism and its characteristic features within the South African realities.
Throughout my life, I have written so many views about this important theoretical question and I will continue to do so."
Piitso added that he did not seek compensation for his written work from any media houses.
Mogotladi "Mo" Mogano: assistant private secretary to the president (pre-2009); chief director in office of the deputy president (post-2009)
Mogano has worked in the Presidency for more than a decade, initially as assistant private secretary to Thabo Mbeki.
When Kgalema Motlanthe became president in September 2008, he inherited her services.
After Zuma succeeded Motlanthe, Mogano moved to the deputy president's office with him, where she remains under Cyril Ramaphosa.
Because she has been ensconced in the office of Zuma's main political rivals down the years, whilst married to one of Zuma's most trusted bodyguards, Mogano's relationship with the Guptas is worth highlighting. (See Muzingaye Mxolisi Dladla, above.)
Mogano can be linked to the Guptas since at least February 2009, when company registration records show that she became a co-director with Tony Gupta and Zuma's son Duduzane in Karibu Hospitality.
The company became dormant in 2011 and was deregistered in 2013. Mogano said "nothing came of the venture," adding that "I resigned before any business could be conducted or any trading could take place."
We have already seen that a Sahara sister company booked return flights to Mauritius in 2010 for Mogano and her then-husband, the head of the Presidential Protection Service Muzingaye Mxolisi Dladla. Both have denied receiving the gift.
The couple also appears to have lived for a while in a Gupta-owned property, about which Mogano referred our query to Dladla, who in turn ignored it.
A source in the Presidency told us several years ago that Mogano had also "flirted with" a job offer from the Guptas, a tip-off that appears to be borne out by a June 2011 email from the #GuptaLeaks in which Mogano sends her "comprehensive resume" to Tony Gupta.
What job Mogano was applying for remains a mystery – she told us "there was no outcome" and she remains gainfully employed in the Presidency.
For their niece's wedding at Sun City in 2013, a spreadsheet shows the Guptas allocated a double room for Dladla and a guest for 3 nights.
Mogano confirmed her attendance, with a friend, after her husband dropped out. She added that she had declared the hospitality as a gift in her annual declaration of interests. Mogano now appears keen to dissociate herself from the Guptas and Dladla, from whom she says she separated three years ago.
She concedes: "With concerns of state capture and as valid as they are, I do accept that such associations can raise doubts about one's professionalism and loyalty to the public service code of conduct."
But she argued that she joined the Presidency "with the full desire to serve the country and not personalities" and had maintained her top security clearance throughout her decade in service.
"I have not allowed my association with elements of the Gupta family enterprise to influence my work adversely or unethically, but have also learnt from recent events to be more vigilant and judicious in professional relationships," she said.
The #GuptaLeaks are a massive trove of information made up of hundreds of gigabytes of documents and emails obtained by a team of journalists from the Daily Maverick's investigative unit, Scorpio, Amabhungane and News24.
• Scorpio is the Daily Maverick's new investigative unit. If you'd like to support its work, click here.