The #Statecapture report exposed a lot of shady deals involving the controversial Gupta family.
Gupta agents Ashu Chawla and Naresh Khosla fraudulently orchestrated South African work permits for Indian nationals by falsifying and backdating the Indian employment contracts on which these permits hinge.
This administrative sleight of hand allowed the Guptas to import and employ foreign labour at the expense of local jobseekers, and conveniently sidestepped the onerous legal red tape meant to protect South African workers from being overlooked in favour of foreign employees.
Chawla was a key Gupta lieutenant and director of the now-bust Sahara Computers (Pty) Ltd (Sahara Computers), as well as its counterpart in India, Sahara Computer and Electronics Limited (SCEL).
Khosla was Chawla’s co-director at SES Technologies, another Indian company belonging to the Guptas. The #GuptaLeaks show how the pair abused their positions as directors to sign off on the dodgy contracts.
As Parliament’s home affairs committee last week heard officials explain the intricacies of the Gupta family’s dubious early naturalisation, it also emerged that scores of their non-South African employees were working locally using “intra-company transfer visas”.
Department of Home Affairs director general of immigration Jackson McKay told committee members in his written answers that none of the foreign employees employed by ANN7, or any other Gupta company, were working in South Africa using visitor or tourist visas.
Instead, these Indian nationals were issued with “intra-company transfer” permits. McKay told the committee that an earlier raid on the Gupta-owned television station found 31 Indian nationals working for ANN7 under such permits. A further nine were in South Africa using visitor’s permits, but only to attend meetings.
This means at least 40 foreign employees were working at ANN7 alone.
In March this year, former ANN7 editor and Gupta-employee-turned-whistleblower Rajesh Sundaram published his book, Indentured: Behind the Scenes at Gupta TV. In it, he tells of his turbulent months working for the Gupta family as they tried to get the fledgling television news station off the ground. He also directly implicates Chawla in circumventing visa requirements.
“I had heard his (Chawla’s) name mentioned for the first time when I was asked to apply for my temporary residence permit under the intra-company transfer process before I left India for South Africa,” Sundaram wrote.
Sundaram tells of how an Indian executive of one of the main shareholders of Infinity Media, ANN7’s holding company, lamented the difficulties in obtaining a work visa for foreigners in South Africa.
“It can take months to get a South African work permit. It is a cumbersome process. We have to advertise the position in South African newspapers and then wait for six months, after which we provide evidence that we have not found a suitable local candidate. Only then can we start the process of getting a work permit. Even so, if there is an official who does not agree, the request for a work permit can still be rejected.”
But they had a plan.
“But Ashu-ji (Chawla) is a genius, and he has found a way around it. We will show the visas of people going to work in South Africa as intra-company transfer. Just fill in the visa form, get police and medical clearance and get back to my office. My office will issue papers certifying that you are an employee of Essel Media being transferred to South Africa.”
Later in the book, Sundaram asked the same Indian executive a question that hinted at how the operation worked:
“But all the people I have recruited to be the core team to launch ANN7 have got contracts from Infinity Media [in South Africa] and not Essel Media [in India]. They have never worked for Essel Media. I hope this is not illegal?”
The Immigration Act, 2002, and its regulations require a South African business seeking to employ a foreign national to first jump through a plethora of legal hoops before the foreign employee can take up work in a local business.