South African leader defends meetings with Indian business tycoons

SOUTH AFRICAN president Cyril Ramaphosa said Friday (26) he had met members of an Indian-born business family at the heart of a giant corruption scandal but “nothing of consequence” was discussed.

In an affidavit submitted to a judicial inquiry probing a web of dodgy deals between government officials including Ramaphosa’s predecessor Jacob Zuma, the Gupta business family and state-owned companies, Ramaphosa said his meetings with them were largely perfunctory.

The Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh are accused of fraudulently profiting from government contracts including energy and transport deals through their close association with Zuma.

“I have met two of the brothers on three or four occasions,” Ramaphosa said.

“My interactions with the Gupta brothers were at events where nothing of any consequence was discussed. I never engaged with them beyond basic greets, pleasantries and common courtesies,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the only time he discussed anything of substance with them was in 2016 when the business family requested a meeting with senior ruling party officials after their bank accounts were closed over alleged corruption.

It was at that meeting where Ramaphosa said he raised concerns that the family’s actions placed Zuma in an “invidious position”.

The Guptas’ influence over the government was first thrust into the spotlight when a large private jet carrying more than 200 foreign guests to a Gupta wedding was allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force base, outside Pretoria.

The airport is a military facility normally used to receive heads of state.

Zuma, who has given evidence before the investigating commission, was accused of fostering a culture of corruption during a nine-year reign before he was ousted in 2018 by the ruling ANC party and replaced by Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa has said he is ready to testify at the probe which is led by constitutional court judge Raymond Zondo.