Bank fears AFU seizure of Gupta plane
Publish date: 12 March 2018
Issue Number: 765
Diary: IBA Legalbrief Africa
Counsel for the Guptas told the Gauteng High Court (Johannesburg) that there was no urgency in the urgent application brought against the family to ground a Bombadier Global 6000 aircraft it was leasing, but the judge is expected to deliver a decision within seven to 10 court days. A News24 report notes Export Development Canada (EDC) and Stoneriver brought the application against the Guptas over a lease agreement relating to the Bombadier jet valued at $41m. The Guptas have a lease agreement with EDC for the Bombadier Global 6000 aircraft, but are engaged in a legal dispute in the courts in the UK over the lease agreement. EDC has asked the SA court to ground the plane until a final order is made and to prevent its movement while the tracking system is switched off. Advocate Alfred Cockrell, counsel for EDC, earlier told the court they didn't know where the aircraft was. ‘Dubai seems to be a popular landing ground for the aircraft. And it has been in India, but we don't know where else it has been,’ Cockrell said. He noted the bank fears the aircraft could be seized by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU). According to a BusinessLIVE report, Cockrell said the Hawks’ raids on Gupta homes, AFU preservation orders for their properties and bank accounts and the family’s decision to switch off the tracking device on the jet, were instrumental in EDC's action.
The Guptas told a different story. Advocate Owen Cook – counsel for the Guptas and their Oakbay Investments and Westdawn Investments companies – said that the matter wasn't urgent, as courts in the UK had indicated the matter would still take months to finalise, notes the News24 report. ‘The alleged urgency on which the applicants rely is entirely self-created. Having prepared their voluminous application at their leisure, the applicants saw it fit to allow the respondents a mere six clear court days to file their answering affidavit,’ he wrote in the responding heads of arguments. Cook said the EDC and Stoneriver pegged ‘their urgency to recent, yet poorly, now well-reported developments against’ the Gupta family and the Oakbay Group of companies. Cook argued that EDC and Stoneriver's argument that a series of ‘cascading events’ led to this application was weak and not true and urged the court to strike the matter off the roll. Cook also argued that granting the application to EDC and Stoneriver would be detrimental to the aircraft as well. ‘The respondents have a direct interest in the maintenance and the upkeep of the aircraft and will not allow it to fall into a state of disrepair. Their interest in doing so is not just financial but is also a question of life and death given that the aircraft is in use,’ Cook argued. He added that the Guptas offered to buy the aircraft outright, but their offer was rejected out of hand by Stoneriver and EDC. However, in responding to the Guptas' argument, Cockrell said it would counter-intuitive to have their order granted only to store the aircraft in a hangar. He said his clients indicated they would be willing to take care of the aircraft's maintenance. According to the report, the judge said she would endeavour to have a judgment ready in seven to 10 court days.