Sun, 20 Oct 2019

Indian court grounds Gupta wedding helicopters

News24
19 Jun 2019, 04:10 GMT+10

While the Guptas had the freedom of Waterkloof Air Force Base for a 2013 wedding, an Indian high court banned the use of helicopters at two lavish Gupta-weddings this month in India.

Several Indian news sources reported that the Uttarakhand High Court banned the use of helicopters and the construction of a helipad at the wedding venue in Auli, a ski-resort in the Himalayan mountains. The area is considered ecologically sensitive.

The wedding of Ajay Gupta's son Suryakant is scheduled from June 18 to 20, and Atul Gupta's Shashank wedding will take place from June 20 to 22.

According to the National Herald India, more than 10 private helicopters have been hired to ferry the guests, including family members, businessmen, politicians and Bollywood stars.

Times of India reported that the judges slammed the state Uttarakhand's government, saying that its first responsibility is the state, not "some rich businessmen from South Africa".

The Guptas will also have to make room for some more unexpected guests, as the court ordered the state pollution control board to monitor the wedding.

Uttarakhand's chief justice Ramesh Ranganathan was critical of marriages being held in the state's environmentally sensitive areas and said if allowed, it would set a precedent with more rich people having their weddings there.

The judgment follows in terms of what is called public interest litigation in the Indian judicial system, which was brought by a resident of Kashipur, Rakshit Joshi. He argued that the lavish wedding would damage the environment, while the state would be failing to uphold earlier court directives to protect the environment.

According to reports, the Guptas met Uttarakhand chief minister Trivendra Singh Rawat, where after they changed the wedding venue from Italy to Auli after Rawat reportedly apprised them of his plans to promote the mountainous state as a wedding destination, the National Herald India reported.

The court also wanted to know who in the state government had given permission to fly helicopters for the wedding.

Last year, Indian tax authorities attached at least 31 properties belonging to the Guptas.

The brothers Gupta first raised South African eyebrows when in 2013 a private plane carrying about 200 guests to the wedding of Vega Gupta and Aakash Jahajgarhia were allowed to land at Waterkloof Air Force Base, with blue light brigades whisking the guests to Sun City. Several ministers and political figures attended the wedding.

The landing has in the past week again made headlines in South Africa, as the Zondo commission into state capture has confirmed that it is looking into the matter, this after Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane's recent announcement that she had opted to scrap the investigation.

Mkhwebane's predecessor, Thuli Madonsela, however, said the groundwork for her investigation into the Gupta Waterkloof landing had been completed with the report still to be written up.

Madonsela told News24 on Thursday that if her investigation has been released to the public, it would have had major implications for the government and the president.

As the Gupta's hold on the South African state became exposed, it emerged that public money was used to fund the extravagant Sun City wedding.

The #GuptaLeaks detailed the intricacies of how R30m from the provincial government-funded Estina dairy project in the Free State was laundered through a series of bank accounts in the United Arab Emirates to pay for the wedding.

Eight people, including the bride's brother, Varun Gupta, were charged in relation to the Estina case last year, but the charges were provisionally withdrawn by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in November.

Last month, the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria found Mkhwebane's report on the Estina Dairy Farm Project to be unconstitutional and set it aside on the grounds that she failed in her duties to investigate and report on the controversial project.

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