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

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.

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

Updated 22 min 36 sec ago

Hong Kong protesters continue past march’s end point

  • Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately
  • Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month

HONG KONG: Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city’s government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of 'one country, two systems.' Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday’s march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read 'Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law.' 'Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!' the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

“I think the government has never responded to our demands,” said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. “No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly.”

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march’s organizers. Protesters repeated the five points of their 'manifesto,' which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage — direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents — as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a 'riot' and dissolving the Legislative Council.                   

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday. “We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies,” they said, “but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people.”

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center. Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows.

Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building.

Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.