POLITICS
05/02/2018 15:15 SAST | Updated 06/02/2018 07:05 SAST

Lawyering Up: The Guptas' Lawyer Speaks

The Guptas look set to deny the #GuptaLeaks emails are authentic. "I can't even open an email," says Ajay Gupta.

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The Gupta family is lawyering up as they plan for an appearance before a parliamentary inquiry in March.

HuffPost SA has confirmed that the family has briefed the Houghton, Johannesburg law firm, Gani Mayet attorneys, to prepare their defence. Notes from the briefings show the family is likely to adopt a position of denial in relation to the various allegations of state capture they face.

Notes seen by HuffPost SA show the family is likely to:

- deny that they have been enriched;

- deny a close relationship with former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe;

- deny the veracity of the #Guptaleaks emails.

LONG ARM OF THE LAW

The family is already facing charges related to the Vrede dairy farm project in the Free State as funds meant for the poverty relief project were traced to the accounts of brother Atul Gupta. In addition, the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) found that funds were used to pay for the family wedding at Sun City in 2013.

Notes seen by HuffPost SA revealed the details of early briefings between the attorneys and Ajay Gupta, the oldest brother who is widely regarded as the brains of the state capture conspiracy.

Notes seen by HuffPost SA revealed the details of early briefings between the attorneys and Ajay Gupta, the oldest brother who is widely regarded as the brains of the state capture conspiracy.

The family and its lieutenant, Salim Essa, as well as a network of linked companies, are at the centre of the story of capture at Eskom, Transnet, Denel and Prasa.

All these state-owned companies are subject to rigorous scrutiny by Parliament's portfolio committee on public enterprises, which is investigating the mismanagement of state funds.

Notes seen by HuffPost SA revealed the details of early briefings between the attorneys and Ajay Gupta, the oldest brother who is widely regarded as the brains of the state capture conspiracy.

Bloomberg via Getty Images
Brian Molefe, then CEO of Eskom, and President Jacob Zuma. Both are close to the Gupta family.

'I HAVE NOTHING' — AJAY GUPTA

The Guptas came to South Africa as small-time investors. Their access, first to former president Thabo Mbeki's adviser Essop Pahad, and later to President Jacob Zuma, has seen the family hit the big-time. They now operate a global network of companies, which span South Africa, Dubai and India, where they hail from the city of Saharanpur.

While investigative journalists have mapped a massive corporate empire of interlocking interests, Ajay Gupta told his lawyers that he has virtually no assets.

I don't have any share, any board (position), any property, any fixed property, whatever you call that. Maybe one car or something, I only have that one room my father used to sleep (in).Ajay Gupta to his lawyer
While reporters have revealed the dodgy business practices of the Gupta family for over a decade, the revelations in the #Guptaleaks emails sealed their fate.

"No, on record I can say that I am not a shareholder of any company, I don't have any assets in any part of the world, except the room my father used to sleep [in], personally that's all [I have].

"I don't have any share, any board [position], any property, any fixed property, whatever you call that. Maybe one car or something, I only have that one room my father used to sleep [in]."

ONLY 14 CALLS TO BRIAN MOLEFE, NOT 58

In her "State of Capture" report, former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela revealed that she had found evidence of 58 calls between Ajay Gupta and former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe. This was regarded as evidence of collusion and a close crony relationship as the Guptas ramped up their business with Eskom.

Getty Images
The Gupta compound in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.

But Ajay Gupta told his lawyers that he and Molefe made no more than 14 calls over a much longer period. "It was maybe one call a month. Less than a second or five seconds."

The family's patriarch also tried to put distance between himself and Molefe. In another note, he says: "Maybe one time, I bump into him at the airport or something... and I remember just 'hello, hello' nothing [else]. Just one word."

'I CAN'T EVEN OPEN A WHATSAPP MESSAGE'

While reporters have revealed the dodgy business practices of the Gupta family for over a decade, the revelations in the #Guptaleaks emails sealed their fate. The tranche of emails provided an X-ray into the family's empire of capture: it showed details of how they seduced politicians into their network with trips to Dubai.

Whether it's (the emails) doctored or not, I still have no issue. I'm very much sure, 100% sure that we did not do anything wrongGupta

And it detailed how the family and Essa colonised the treasuries of various state-owned companies. Now Ajay Gupta sounds like he will deny the veracity of the leaked emails. "Whether it's [the emails] doctored or not, I still have no issue. I'm very much sure, 100% sure that we did not do anything wrong..." Ajay Gupta told his lawyers.

"...one more interesting thing, you please note it down. I never did email in my life. I am illiterate. I don't know how to do the SMS, even, forget about, even WhatsApps or anything. My secretary receives the email and she opens it, she prints it and brings it to me if it comes to that," said Ajay Gupta who is regarded as the mastermind of the family empire and is said to be the cleverest brother.

I ACT IN THEIR INTERESTS

Lawyer Ahmed Gani confirmed that he is acting for the Gupta family. "Our intention is to represent them in the parliamentary inquiry." He would not disclose what the family's defence is likely to be and said he had approached the family offering to represent them.

The family have not retained Gert van der Merwe who did their work last year. Asked if the family's taint was not a problem for him, Gani said: "To be honest, every client is controversial. I believe in their defence and act in their interests."

*This article has been edited to correct an error. Saharanpur is a city in India, not a state as previously reported.