After a year of legal battles, Canada’s export agency has won the right to sell a notorious Canadian-funded airplane that played a highly visible role in the corruption scandal that toppled South Africa’s former president, Jacob Zuma.
Export Development Canada, the federal export credit bank, has been embroiled in a lengthy court wrangle with the Gupta brothers, the business tycoons who received a US$41-million loan from EDC to help them purchase the Bombardier luxury jet.
The jet, registered as ZS-OAK, became famous in South Africa as social media sites used tracking services to follow the jet’s movements around the world while police searched for the Guptas and raided their Johannesburg villa at the height of the corruption scandal last year.
In the court case, EDC warned that there was “a very real concern” that the Guptas could use the aircraft “to escape justice or for some other unlawful means.” The federal agency also alleged that the Guptas may have used “the proceeds of crime” to obtain some of the US$10-million down payment for the Bombardier Global 6000 jet. The agency said it faced the “enormous” risk of “serious and potentially irremediable harm” because the Guptas were refusing to return the jet.
The Guptas – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – were business partners with the son of Mr. Zuma, who was forced to resign last year at the height of the corruption allegations.
After launching the court application in South Africa early last year, EDC won an order to ground the aircraft, which was then stored at an airport in Johannesburg. And in a new court order, EDC has now won the right to market the aircraft for sale.
“The sale process is underway,” EDC spokesperson Shelley MacLean told The Globe and Mail in an e-mail.
“Following the South African court’s approval in December of our application to market the aircraft for sale, EDC has commissioned a third party to sell the aircraft,” she said.
There was a parallel case in Britain, where the Guptas were also fighting EDC’s efforts to repossess and sell the airplane, but Ms. MacLean said the case in Britain was “stayed” after EDC filed its application in South Africa to sell the plane. South African regulatory bodies were also included in the South African court order, she said.
The Guptas purchased the Bombardier plane for US$52-million in early 2015, with EDC financing 80 per cent of the purchase cost. For nearly three years after that, the Guptas used the jet to fly between South Africa, India, Dubai, Russia and Switzerland.
Local media have alleged that the Guptas and their close associates collected hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts and “commissions” from South Africa’s state-owned electricity and railway companies and then funnelled the money out of the country.
The Guptas, now believed to be living in Dubai, have continued to showcase a lavish lifestyle, including a spectacular five-day family wedding at a luxury hotel in Abu Dhabi that cost an estimated US$7-million last month. An earlier Gupta family wedding in 2013 was financed by several million dollars that had been diverted from a government farm program in South Africa, according to leaked Gupta e-mails.
The Gupta brothers have refused to return to South Africa to testify at an official inquiry into state corruption, saying they fear an unjustified arrest by South African police if they return.
The inquiry heard testimony from a former deputy minister of finance who said the Guptas offered him a bribe of US$60-million and a promotion to the post of finance minister if he agreed to appoint their proxies to senior jobs at the national treasury to help them loot the government. The Guptas have denied the allegation.
Last week, at the same inquiry, two former cabinet ministers testified that the Guptas had advance knowledge of some of Mr. Zuma’s cabinet appointments. They testified that a cabinet minister had told them in 2011 that the Guptas summoned him to their villa and informed him that he would be receiving a cabinet promotion, which was publicly announced by Mr. Zuma several days later.