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Corrupt Gupta brothers and the big fat weddings in Auli, Uttarakhand: Did the BJP govt in the state miss their sketchy past?

The charges against Gupta brothers could fill the pages of many articles. Just a glimpse into the family's illustrious career does indicate that they are deeply entrenched in several corruption cases.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

BJP leader Uma Bharti took to Twitter today to raise objections against a wedding that is set to take place in Uttarakhand. The weddings that are set to take place in the picturesque mountains are that of the offsprings of the Gupta brothers. While Ajay Gupta’s son Suryakant gets married on June 18-20, his younger brother Atul Gupta’s son Shashank ties the knot on June 20-22. People monitoring the arrangements peg the wedding to cost an estimated Rs 200 crore!

Uma Bharti’s reasons for opposing the wedding might be skewed. Her main grouse is that of obscene display of wealth. Such a socialist argument might not find resonance with many considering even if the wedding entails an obscene display of wealth, the person whose wealth is being spent has the ultimate right to choose what he does with his money.

However, there are other reasons to be concerned about these big-fat-weddings that are about to take place in Uttarakhand.

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For starters, Ghaziabad based activist has written a letter to Prakash Javdekar expressing concern over what these weddings would do the ecological balance in the region. The weddings are set to take place in the ski destination of Auli.

Lawyer and environmentalist Akash Vashishtha, in his letter, states that he would be compelled to seek legal action if the government does not act ahead of the event.

Vashishtha’s letter states he was disturbed to learn about the wedding of the sons of Ajay Gupta and Atul Gupta, who are being probed by the Income Tax Department for alleged money laundering, between June 18-20 in Auli area of Chamoli district in the Garhwal Himalayas.

According to Vashishtha, situated at an altitude of 2,505 metres, in close proximity to the snow-covered Himalayan peaks such as Nanda Devi, Mana Parvat and Kamat, Auli is a fragile ecology, blanketed with thick snow for most parts of the year.

He says that this unmindful and reckless personal event would harm the ecology of the entire Himalayan landscape, irreparably.

Apart from the ecological concerns that these destinations weddings might have, the background of the Gupta brothers themselves raise questions as to why the Uttarakhand government is cooperating and catering to their demands at all.

President of South Africa who resigned in February 2018 after charges of massive fraud and impropriety have inextricable links to the Gupta brothers. Zuma was accused of being involved in various fraudulent deals benefitting his family with the help of Gupta brothers – India born influential South Africa based businessmen with interests in computers, media, mining, and real estate.

Zuma’s son is reported to be a director in many companies of Gupta brothers, and thus Zuma was accused of granting undue favours to Gupta brothers as a result of which piling personal fortunes for himself and his family. For example, there was one instance where Bank of Baroda, through its South African operations, gave loan to Jacob Zuma’s fourth wife to buy a house. The loan was paid by companies owned by Gupta brothers.

Helping Zuma’s wife pay a housing loan is lesser of the charges levelled against the Gupta brothers. There have been reports that Guptas were so influential and powerful in South Africa owing to their proximity to the Zuma family, that they even used to offer posts in the central government to politicians (fixing cabinet berths a la Radia tape controversy back in India) apart from winning government contracts for themselves.

Gupta brothers have inextricable links to one Piyoosh Goyal (businessman) who has inextricable links to Kapil Sibal.

Read also: Kapil Sibal acquired land in Delhi worth crores by paying just 1 lakh rupees?

The Gupta brothers were also connected to the BRICS summit saga that unfolded in 2018. At that time, there was news that there were invisible hands that were trying to derail the summit and also, get Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrested.

The South African Kashmiri Action Group and the Muslim Lawyers’ Association demanded the investigation, arrest and prosecution of Modi over his governance of Jammu and Kashmir. The motivated calls for arrest were based on the misplaced UN report on Kashmir that India had summarily and vehemently rejected. The Ministry of External Affairs had issued a statement saying “It is a selective compilation of largely unverified information. It is overtly prejudiced and seeks to build a false narrative.”

Interestingly, the bid to derail the summit by legal applications of having Narendra Modi arrested have been fuelled by the controversial businessmen of the Gupta family.

South African media outlet DailyMaverick reported :

Building closer relations with India is probably somewhere on Ramaphosa’s to-do list, but at least he and Modi have in common a dislike for the Zuma-friendly Gupta family. During his 2016 state visit to South Africa, Modi snubbed a dinner at which he had heard some of the Gupta brothers would be present, and now some conspiracy theorists in the Indian High Commission in Pretoria reckon Gupta-friendly officials might be fuelling efforts to embarrass Modi, as payback.

While investigating the links between Zuma and the Gupta brothers, AmaBhugane and DailyMaverick had stumbled upon his business relations with another controversial businessman called Piyoosh Goyal and in turn, Goyal’s business relations with Congress leader Kapil Sibal. However, no link has been established between Kapil Sibal and the Gupta family directly. Though, Daily Maverick amaBhungane claim that family of Kapil Sibal – the Congress leader, his wife Promila Sibal, and his son Akhil Sibal, who is also a lawyer – and families of Piyoosh Goyal and Gupta brothers took a chartered flight from Delhi to Mumbai to watch the final of the 2011 Cricket World Cup between India and Sri Lanka, a charge which was summarily denied by Kapil Sibal and his son.

Our independent investigation also showed that Kapil Sibal had acquired a defunct company from Piyoosh Goyal and an expensive piece of land for a nominal rate and the business dealings between the two were a little opaque. Following our investigation, Kapil Sibal’s refusal to answer our question and his subsequent u-turn from what he had told the South African journalists, Sibal had also threatened to sue OpIndia.

Read also: Corrupt businessmen and Islamists try to get Modi ‘arrested’ ahead of BRICS, read how they failed

In 2018, documents seized by the Income Tax department during raids at Gupta brothers properties in Dehradun and Saharanpur revealed that Rs. 100 crores which were spent on a Shiva temple in Saharanpur was used as a front to launder money by way of ‘donations’. The properties that were raided were in the middle of the South African scandal that involved Jacob Zuma. The suspicion was that they were bringing money into India.

“The Shiva project was a means to bring money back to India. Otherwise, there was no need to spend over Rs 100 crore for a temple of this size. The documents revealed an online transaction of Rs 22.67 crore made to the Gupta temple trust in 2015 by the Guptas’ employee Sanjay Grover, who worked in Dubai before his death. Grover also has an account in a private bank in Dehradun and that is also under scanner”, IT sleuths had said to Times of India. 

The Times of India report says, “Investigations further revealed that Grover died in 2016, following which an I-T team quizzed his wife, Renu Grover, who lives in West Patel Nagar, Delhi, on Wednesday. The I-T official said, “In her statement, she clarified that her husband worked with the Guptas in Dubai and drew a salary of 26,000 Dirham (about Rs 4.59 lakh) per month and was not in a condition to give loan or donate Rs 22.67 crore”.

In 2018, IT sleuths had said that the process of attaching 30 properties had already been started by the government and that they are trying to identify 60 more properties that were mentioned in the documents seized by the IT department.

South African journalists reported that while the Gupta brothers have had recent legal success in SA courts, Zondo Commission into State Capture is not yet complete and that the nation hopes to see prosecutions in the future. In the same report, the South African journalist also raise alarm bells over the Gupta brothers meeting with Uttarakhand officials for the arrangements of the wedding and urge Indian journalist to raise a similar alarm.

The conspiracy of silence around the Gupta brothers and their shenanigans is such that back in 2017, HSBC was accused of complicity in letting the businessmen transfer money out of SA. In fact, the peer had demanded an investigation into HSBC for criminal complicity in helping the Gupta brothers launder money. 

Coming back to Gupta weddings, this won’t be the first time that the Guptas would embarrass India as far as lavish weddings go. On 30 April 2013, an Airbus A330-200 chartered aircraft run by Jet Airways carrying 217 guests from India was cleared to land at the South African Air Force base at Waterkloof for the wedding ceremony of Vega Gupta to Aakash Jahajgarhia at. This event caused an uproar that led to the African National Congress (ANC) and other political parties as well as the South African National Defence Union denouncing this use of the air force base. The ANC issued a statement calling for “those responsible for giving the family permission to come into the country without going through the normal channels be ‘brought to book’.

Interestingly, the person responsible for the fiasco in South Africa, the man who cleared the landing was later demoted, but, he had asserted that the landing was approved because of ‘sensitive official visits’. There was significant controversy over who were the politicians aboard this flight. It was later reported that Azam Khan, Mata Prasad Pandey and Shivpal Singh Yadav may have been onboard and had attended the South African wedding.

In the aftermath of the event, India’s High Commissioner Virendra Gupta (not related to the Gupta family) said publicly that the Indian High Commission was given permission to land the plane at Waterkloof Air Force Base. He explained that the Commission communicated through its defence adviser with the chief of defence for foreign relations in the SA National Defence Force (SANDF). 

The charges against Gupta brothers could fill the pages of many articles. Just a glimpse into the family’s illustrious career does indicate that they are deeply entrenched in several corruption cases. Why the Uttarakhand government would indulge the family is a conundrum that deserves to be solved. The fact that it would “promote tourism” in a small state because the amount being spent on the wedding is large, certainly cannot be a justification for indulging corrupt businessmen who are being investigated across borders. One has to wonder if the Uttarakhand government missed the Gupta brother’s past, or there is some other angle that we might have missed.

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Nupur J Sharma
Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017

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