The Gupta family will lay criminal charges if it is proved that email servers at one of its companies were hacked for this weekend’s release of damning communications, says their lawyer.
Gert van der Merwe said the company would investigate whether the email systems at Sahara Computers were breached by hackers to steal communications that were then sent on to the Sunday Times and City Press.
He said the emails would also be looked at to see if they, or parts of them, had been “faked”.
If the emails were obtained through hacking, it raises the spectre of the coalition opposing President Jacob Zuma having access to significant intelligence-gathering capabilities.
Zuma reportedly used an “intelligence report” as justification for firing then finance minister Pravin Gordhan earlier this year.
Van der Merwe said: “I don’t say what they have is a true thing, it might be that those are fake documents.
“The point is that, in our law, there is a principle of privacy and commercial integrity to certain documents.
“You send something in good faith and entrust it to somebody else. But if it was hacked, it is a criminal offence and I would advise my client to press criminal charges.”
The newspapers led their editions yesterday with stories about how the email bundles showed that the Gupta family and its network effectively ran South Africa – and that Zuma was planning to set up a “second home” for himself and his family in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Zuma denied this, saying he only had one home – at Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal.
Many of the emails released appeared to have come from addresses at sahara.co.za. Some of those emails were addressed to, or forwarded to, Sahara Computers CEO Ashu Chawla.
One mail posted by the Sunday Times online was addressed to Tony Gupta. However, Van der Merwe said it appeared the mail cache went broader than sahara.co.za.
“It seems to me to go broader, like they make reference to some of the individuals employed at the holding company. So, of course, it is only rumours at this point in time, until I know what’s going on. But hacking – it’s most certainly on the cards. I don’t know how they got hold of it. I am going to ask them to tell me. If they say they got it from a staff member, that’s something else. But you can most certainly not exclude the possibility of hacking,” he said.
Unusually, both Sunday Times and City Press did not reveal, even in broad outline, from where they had got the information.
Van der Merwe said the timing of the leak could have had “a political motive”, coming as it did while the ANC’s national executive committee was debating the future of Zuma.
Opponents say Zuma is part of a conspiracy to allow the Guptas to “capture” the state. Van der Merwe said he had not yet had time to study the emails.
He said he would be discussing the issue with both newspapers because his clients had not been given enough time to respond to the allegations.
The family was allegedly central to a scheme to acquire residence for Zuma and his family in Dubai.
Also, the CV of Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was apparently sent to the Guptas for their approval before he was appointed by Zuma.
They also allegedly paid for Cooperative Governance Minister Des van Rooyen’s trip to Dubai after his appointment to Cabinet in 2015.
Nazeem Howa, a former CEO of the Gupta companies, reportedly prepared notes for ANC Youth League president Collen Maine on how to answer journalists’ questions.
By Vicky Abraham– firstname.lastname@example.org