South Africa hears bid to ground graft-accused family’s jet

A Bombardier Global 6000 jet stands on the tarmac at the airport in New Delhi in this file photo. The jet is similar to the one owned by South Africa's Gupta family, which has disappeared. (Reuters photo)
Updated 09 March 2018
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South Africa hears bid to ground graft-accused family’s jet

JOHANNESBURG: Canada went to court in South Africa Friday to ground a private jet used by the Gupta business family which has been accused of corruptly influencing former president Jacob Zuma.
Export Development Canada (EDC), the country’s state-run trade credit agency, alleges the controversial family’s businesses defaulted on a $41 million loan for the Bombardier Global 6000 which subsequently disappeared.
The Canadian-built aircraft’s public tracking device was deactivated on February 4, the court heard.
“As we sit today, my client cannot tell where the aircraft is,” EDC’s lawyer Alfred Cockrell told the South Gauteng High Court in Johannesburg.
EDC is now petitioning for the aircraft to be grounded, wherever it is located, until a bid to have the plane seized can be heard in an English court.
“All my clients want is for the aircraft to sit in a hangar somewhere so it can’t be flown to Dubai or India or somewhere,” said Cockrell.
EDC doesn’t “want to sell this aircraft in the interim period, they just want the aircraft to be put in a safe place where it can be stored and where it cannot be used by the Guptas.”
Cockrell added that grounding the aircraft would not be an inconvenience for the Guptas as they would be able to charter another jet or fly first class.
The Indian-born Guptas, one of South Africa’s wealthiest business families, are facing police investigations in the country over alleged corruption as well as their links to former president Jacob Zuma, who resigned following several graft scandals.
Cockrell said EDC feared “damage to the aircraft,” “reputational harm” and that “the aircraft may be forfeited because it is the proceeds of crime.”
South Africa has launched several investigations into the family and Indian tax officials this week raided several properties belonging to the Gupta brothers in their former home town as part of a money laundering probe.
Last month, South African authorities also raided Gupta properties in Johannesburg as part of the ongoing investigation into alleged graft.
One of the three Gupta brothers, Ajay, was declared a “fugitive from justice” by police after he failed to respond to a summons.
Thirteen other people are facing charges linked to allegations that millions of dollars of public money meant for poor South African dairy farmers was embezzled by the Guptas.
They are also accused of receiving highly favorable government contracts during Zuma’s presidency.
Led by Atul, the Guptas arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections.
The case was adjourned for lunch and will resume Friday afternoon.


Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

Updated 19 January 2019
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Pelosi scrapped Afghan trip after Trump ‘leaked’ details

WASHINGTON: US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday excoriated her political nemesis, President Donald Trump, for “outing” her commercial trip to Afghanistan after barring her from using a military aircraft, forcing her to scrap it entirely over security concerns.
The brawl between the no-nonsense Republican leader and the take-no-prisoners Democrat — who is now just two heartbeats away from the presidency — is the latest round in their shutdown showdown.
The federal government has been shuttered for four weeks over Trump’s insistence that a wider budget measure include billions of dollars for a wall on the border with Mexico — and Pelosi’s refusal to do so.
Their spat spilled into the diplomatic arena on Thursday when, after Pelosi suggested that Trump postpone his State of the Union address until the government reopens, the president grounded her military flight.
Pelosi accused Trump of being “very irresponsible” in breaching security protocol.
“We had a report from Afghanistan that the president outing our trip had made the scene on the ground much more dangerous because it’s just a signal to the bad actors that we’re coming,” she told reporters.
The administration strongly denies that it “leaked” any plans about the trip to a war zone.
“The idea we would leak anything that would put the safety and security of any American at risk is a flat-out lie,” a senior White House official said.
The US government shutdown, which has left about 800,000 federal workers without a paycheck, is now the longest in the country’s history — and there is no sign of a compromise.
The Office of Management and Budget reportedly issued a memorandum saying that “under no circumstance during a government shutdown” can a congressional delegation use government aircraft for travel.
However, Republican Representative Lee Zeldin led a delegation to Iraq and other countries since the shutdown began.
Pelosi’s office sounded off on the administration’s handling of her trip, which had not been announced for security reasons.
The State Department released an updated assessment stressing that Trump’s announcement of the Pelosi travel “had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops,” her spokesman Drew Hammill said.
“This morning, we learned that the administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.”
Democratic lawmakers have expressed outrage.
“As a former member of the Intelligence Committee who has traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan, disclosing ANY Members’ travel into a war zone is disgraceful and dangerous,” tweeted House Democrat Jan Schakowsky.
“This is unprecedented.”
Trump lashed out at Pelosi once again on Twitter, asking why she and other Democrats would leave the country “on a seven day excursion when 800,000 great people are not getting paid.”
And then his re-election campaign team released a tongue-in-cheek shutdown-related campaign fundraising request.
For a contribution of $20.20, a reference to the next election year, the campaign told supporters it would send a fake red brick to Pelosi and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — to build a wall.