Will Murari Lal Jalan, family and business associate of the Gupta family, which has been accused of state capture in South Africa, get security clearance to run Jet Airways in India? It seems unlikely given that even the United States Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa, and any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 13818, if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States. In effect, any American national cannot have business transactions with the Gupta brothers. This raises a big question about whether Murari Lal Jalan will get clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Civil Aviation to be appointed as the director on the board of Jet Airways.
The Resolution Professional has submitted an application to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for the security clearance of three Jalan nominees for their proposed appointment. After the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the application will go to the Home Ministry. The Resolution Plan cannot be considered by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) as a court until or unless the approval does not come by way of security clearance. As per norms, the operator is to intimate any change in the board of directors, chairman and CEO to the ministry and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and provide their details. A new chairman or director can be appointed only after their security clearance.
The United States Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has sanctioned Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa for their involvement in corruption in South Africa, pursuant to Executive Order (EO) 13818, which builds upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. It is now known that the Gupta and Jalan families registered three companies before Murari Lal Jalans’s brother Vishal’s daughter, Shivangi Jalan, was married to Atul Gupta’s son Shashank. Allegedly, the Jalan and Gupta families also part-own a healthcare venture and are jointly developing real estate in Uzbekistan. Jalan has also allegedly transferred funds to Agev Investments, which is owned by the Gupta family’s in-law Ajay Garg.
OFAC sanctioned members of a significant corruption network in South Africa that leveraged overpayments on government contracts, bribery, and other acts of corruption to fund political contributions and influence government actions. OFAC specifically designated Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Salim Essa for their involvement in corruption in South Africa. “The Gupta family leveraged its political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets. The Treasury’s designation targets the Guptas’ pay-to-play political patronage, which was orchestrated at the expense of the South African people,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence in October 2019. “The Guptas and Essa have used their influence with prominent politicians and parties to line their pockets with ill-gotten gains. We will continue to exclude from the U.S. financial system those who profit from corruption,” he had added.
The US Department of the Treasury’s release said, “As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of the individuals named above, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by them, individually, or with other designated persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons, are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. Unless authorized by a general or specific license issued by OFAC or otherwise exempt, OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all transactions by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of designated or otherwise blocked persons. In addition, any approval, financing, facilitation, or guarantee by a U.S. person, wherever located, of a transaction by a foreign person where the transaction by that foreign person would be prohibited by E.O. 13818 if performed by a U.S. person or within the United States would be prohibited.”
The Gupta brothers have been accused of using their friendship with Jacob Zuma, the then President of South Africa, to profit financially and influence ministerial appointments. Zuma was forced to resign as president in February 2018 amidst allegations of massive corruption.
Today’s sanctions announcement demonstrates the U.S. government’s unwavering commitment to support the rule of law and accountability in South Africa. “We support the anti-corruption efforts of South Africa’s independent judiciary, law enforcement agencies, and the ongoing judicial commissions of inquiry. Moreover, we commend the extraordinary work by South Africa’s civil society activists, investigative journalists, and whistleblowers who have exposed the breadth and depth of the Gupta family’s corruption,” the US Treasury Department stated in a press release.
The entry of Murari Lal Jalan, who had no connection with the aviation business until his audacious bid for Jet Airways, has raised eyebrows in business circles. An oft-repeated question in circles in the national capital is whether Jalan is merely a front behind which Ajay Gupta of the Sahara Group and his family, who fled to Dubai from South Africa, are calling the shots. Since the Jet Airways bid concerns a sector like aviation, which has national security implications, the deal merits a thorough investigation to find out the source of the money which will be used to fund the deal.
In January 2018, the formation of a commission of enquiry to probe allegations of state capture was announced by constituting the Zondo Commission by South Africa. This body, the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the public sector, including organs of state and headed by Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo, began its work in August 2018. The Commission is also investigating how state assets like the Waterkloof Air Force base were used by a private family, the Guptas, to land their private aircraft. Justice Zondo has also said that he doesn’t think the Gupta family would return to South Africa to testify before the state capture commission of enquiry. He also said that the Guptas have been identified as key players in the state capture project and have fled the country.
THE GUPTA FAMILY
Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta immigrated to South Africa in the 1990s. Due in large part to their generous donations to a political party and their reportedly close relationship with former South African President Jacob Zuma, their business interests expanded. The family has been implicated in several corrupt schemes in South Africa, allegedly stealing hundreds of millions of dollars through illegal deals with the South African government, obfuscated by a shadowy network of shell companies and associates linked to the family.
Credible reports of these corruption schemes include the Gupta family offering members of the South African government money or elevated positions within the government in return for their cooperation with Gupta family business efforts. Public reporting has revealed the Gupta family’s efforts to garner the cooperation of a potential Minister of Finance by promising millions of dollars in return for the individual’s assistance in removing key members of the South African government who were considered to be stumbling blocks for the Gupta family’s enterprises.
In another instance of an attempt to obtain the assistance of a member of government through illicit means, Rajesh reportedly promised a cut of a large-scale development project to a provincial minister in return for the minister’s assistance. While making this offer, Rajesh reportedly referred to two other politically powerful individuals present at the meeting as receiving large monthly payments, similar to the one being offered to the provincial minister, directly from Rajesh, in return for their assistance with a mining project.
In addition, the Gupta family was overpaid for government contracts. They then used a portion of the proceeds of those overpayments to donate money to a South African political party. Further, the family paid money to a South African government official in exchange for the appointment of other government officials friendly to the Gupta family’s business interests. As a part of their corrupt business enterprise, South African government officials and business executives discussed ways to capture government contracts and then move the proceeds of those contracts through Gupta-owned businesses, a press release issued by the U.S Department of the Treasury said in October 2019.
Ajay Gupta is being designated for being the leader of an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Ajay is the family patriarch who formulated the family’s corrupt business strategies and controlled its finances, the US Department of the Treasury’s release stated.
Atul Gupta has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Atul is widely known to have overseen the Gupta family’s outreach to corrupt government officials, said the US Department of the Treasury in its release.
Rajesh Gupta (Rajesh) has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Rajesh cultivated important relationships with the sons of powerful South African politicians and led efforts to pursue business and relationships in a South African province where corruption was rampant. Rajesh attempted to use at least one of those relationships to seek undue influence with additional members of a South African political party, the US Department of the Treasury’s press release stated.
Salim Essa, a business associate of the Gupta family, has materially assisted, sponsored, or provided financial, material, technological support for, or goods or services to or in support of, an entity that has engaged in, or whose members have engaged in, corruption, including the misappropriation of state assets, the expropriation of private assets for personal gain, corruption related to government contracts or the extraction of natural resources, or bribery.
Building upon the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, on December 20, 2017, the President signed E.O. 13818, in which the President found that the prevalence of human rights abuse and corruption that have their source, in whole or in substantial part, outside the United States, had reached such scope and gravity that it threatens the stability of international political and economic systems.
Human rights abuse and corruption undermine the values that form an essential foundation of stable, secure and functioning societies, have devastating impacts on individuals, weaken democratic institutions, degrade the rule of law, perpetuate violent conflicts, facilitate the activities of dangerous persons, and undermine economic markets. The United States seeks to impose tangible and significant consequences on those who commit serious human rights abuse or engage in corruption, as well as to protect the financial system of the United States from abuse by these same persons.
To date, the Department of the Treasury has designated 118 individuals and entities under E.O. 13818. This figure is in addition to the numerous human rights- or corruption-related designations the Treasury has issued under other various authorities. In total, since January of 2017, the Treasury has taken action against more than 680 individuals and entities engaged in activities related to, or directly involving, human rights abuse or corruption, said the US Department of the Treasury.
Questions sent to representatives of Murari Lal Jalan by this writer elicited the following reply: “Mr Jalan has no business association or business ties with the Gupta brothers of South Africa and it is incorrect to link Mr Jalan to them or to any of their businesses. None of them are involved in Jet Airways and you should refrain from using terms like ‘front’ for an independent businessman. The credentials of both Consortium members have been independently verified by the Resolution Professional, the Committee of Creditors and their respective advisors. As stated, the businesses of Mr Jalan and the Gupta Brothers are separate and distinct and they have no association or financial dealings between them and the existence of Gupta Brothers on any US Sanction List neither affects nor shall affect the ongoing or future businesses of Mr Jalan, including his committed investment for Jet Airways. Mr Jalan’s brother has family relationship with the Gupta brothers of South Africa (which is public information) and not Mr Jalan. Their personal relationship has no connection with their business activities. Mr Jalan is not aware of the businesses of Gupta Brothers in India or elsewhere. The Consortium will be carrying out the Jet Airways Business in India in compliance with Indian laws and after seeking all necessary approvals, which should address all doubts and concerns relating to national security.”