Remnants of what is left of the Gupta empire crashed further on Thursday when the Department of Home Affairs raided the ANN7 studios to hunt Indian employees, believed to be illegally working with expired visas.
The swoop on the Midrand-based TV offices that also houses The New Age newspaper occurred hours after 2 500 workers at the family’s Optimum Coal Mine in Mpumalanga shut down operations, demanding to know if they would be paid today.
The Guptas last year sold their media empire to Mzwanele Manyi, one of their key allies, but most of the staff brought into the country under the Gupta era were retained.
ANN7 employees, who spoke on condition of anonymity, were shocked to see officials from Home Affairs arriving at their offices Thursday afternoon to demand files of the suspects.
The officials summoned a human resources manager in the boardroom, where they held a marathon meeting. It is believed that the officials were targeting more than 10 employees of Indian descent working as line managers.
“We saw them coming in and we have seen the HR manager coming in and out of the boardroom to fetch documents of Indians that the Guptas hired from India as specialists,” said an employee, who asked not to be identified.
“We know that some of them have never renewed their travelling papers even though the company gives them special privileges such as bloated salaries and free Uber benefits,” added another employee. Immigration officials were still verifying documents at 7pm.
Department spokesperson Thabo Mokgola said the “routine inspection” was prompted by the information they had received relating to the documents of certain employees.
“As part of its mandate, the department’s inspectorate undertakes regular inspections on the basis of information provided, which would demand a thorough investigation, including in loco.
“In this regard, our officials visited the ANN7 studios to verify information related to visas of certain individuals employed by the company. Once verified, the department will release its findings,” said Mokgola.
ANN7 editor Abhinav Sahay, general manager Gary Naidoo, Manyi and The New Age editor Ricky Naidoo did not answer their phones when repeatedly contacted for comment.
The drama at the Optimum Coal Mine and media outlets follows the Hawks raiding the family’s home in Saxonwold, Joburg last week, after investigations linked two family members to receiving R10million in payments linked to the Estina Dairy Project in the Free State.
The eldest brother, Ajay Gupta, is on the run and has been declared a fugitive from justice.
Lawyers representing the Guptas have said their clients are not fugitives and they would not be handed over to the Hawks.
Until last week, just before Ajay fled India, he was spotted partying in his hometown of Saharanpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He allegedly cut short his visit to India and left for an unknown destination after hearing Jacob Zuma had stepped down as president.
Indian sources claim that prior to being classified as a fugitive from justice in South Africa, Ajay was provided one of the highest levels of protection possible from the Indian government – fit for a chief minister.
Last week’s announcement of the exit by the Bank of Baroda from South Africa was another blow to the Guptas. It was the last financial institution offering the family banking services since being implicated in state capture.
The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which represents 2500 workers at Optimum Coal Mine, said the recent developments had caused panic among workers.
“They handed over a memorandum of grievances to the chief executive (George van der Merwe). They want to know if they will get their salaries tomorrow (today), since the Bank of Baroda is pulling out. They also want to know their future because the company’s owner is now a fugitive.
“Van der Merwe confirmed that the company is being sold, but he would not commit on the issue of salaries,” said NUM’s Livhuwani Mammburuu on Thursday.