Gupta links to visa processing?

The Gupta family does not have links to the processing of visas for foreign visitors to South Africa, the department of home affairs said on Monday.

The Department of Home Affairs is not allowing the Gupta family to fleece visitors to South Africa, says its visa supplier.

The controversial Gupta family does not have any link to the processing of visas for foreign visitors to South Africa at a price of hundreds of millions of rands, the department of home affairs and the company involved insisted in back-to-back press conferences on Monday.

And the similarity of names between South African shelf companies used by the Gupta family and on behalf of the government of Saudi Arabia was simple coincidence, the company, VFS Global, said, in “categorically” denying any link to the Gupta family.

On Friday DA shadow minister of home affairs Haniff Hoosen ambushed Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba in Parliament, implying that he had been managing the processing of visas to financially benefit the Gupta family.

“You can imagine,” Hoosen said in the written version of his speech, “that the millions of people who travel to our country, are paying the Guptas and the Zumas even before they arrive here. These crooks are not only fleecing South Africans, they have now upgraded their corrupt operations and will now be raking in billions of rands from foreigners who travel here.”

Hoosen provided as proof a receipt he said showed money meant for VFS, which processes visa applications for foreigners wishing to visit South Africa, being paid to a company named Islandsite Investment.

“And the Directors of that company are two very famous people. Duduzane Zuma and Rajesh Gupta,” Hoosen said.

In mid-2014 Hoosen asked public protector Thuli Madonsela to investigate the contract between VFS and home affairs, saying there was reason to believe VFS had been awarded the tender illegally and was putting other visa facilitators out of business.

Several local visa and immigration specialists have long claimed a Gupta link to VFS since it was appointed as Home Affairs’s supplier in late 2010, on a contract then estimated to be worth R1-billion. None of the claims have ever been substantiated.

On Monday afternoon the department of home affairs said there was nothing untoward about the appointment of VFS.

“We wish to discourage baseless accusations that impact negatively on the department’s integrity especially given the critical role of the department,” direct-general Mkuseli Apleni said in a statement about “the unfounded claims by an MP”.

In a statement immediately following that of Home Affairs, VFS said it had no links to the Gupta family.

A copy of the credit card payment referred to by Hoosen, and seen by the Mail & Guardian, shows a R2 379 visa fee paid to “Islandsite Investment”. The Gupta family has used at least two companies with names beginning “Islandsite Investments” in their business dealings, and one of those sported President Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma as a director.

The Gupta-linked companies were quite separate from its own entity, VFS said.

There are, of have been, at least 61 companies registered in South Africa with the name “Islandsite Investments” followed by numerals, or written-out numbers.

The credit card receipt is for a South African citizen who applied for a visa to visit Saudi Arabia in February 2015. The South African lodged an application at a Cape Town service centre for Saudi Arabia operated by VFS TasHeel, a joint venture between VFS and a management company run by Saudi prince Faisal Bin Abdullah al-Faisal.

The Home Affairs Department said it had appealed to VFS to “continue being transparent” and that the company had agreed to disclose its directors.

In late February VFS in South Africa confirmed to the Mail & Guardian that its local company directors were Zubin Karkaria and Oliver Canson. Complying with a formal request under the Companies Act, VFS also provided a register of shareholders that showed the local subsidiary of VFS to be owned by VF Worldwide Holdings, a company registered in Mauritius.

As of 2014 the Mauritius company was wholly owned by Kuoni, a 100-year-old publicly listed Swiss company with large holdings in travel and tourism. Through various subsidiaries VF Worldwide provides services to a range of countries, and has been awarded government tenders to eye-popping amounts, such as £321-million in the United Kingdom and $51-million in Canada. Karkaria is the group CEO of Kuoni and Canson is its chief financial officer of the main VFS subsidiary. In its last reported financial year the group had an audited turnover of just under R50-billion.

Phillip de Wet is an associate editor at the Mail & Guardian.