UAE President Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan’s private visit ‘was above board’

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nayhan. Picture: AFP/Handout

UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nayhan. Picture: AFP/Handout

Published May 2, 2023


Cape Town - A full roster of ministers has maintained that a private visit by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) President and Abu Dhabi ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with a 500-person entourage for Ramadaan celebrations in the Eastern Cape did not contravene any domestic or international laws.

The visit created much ire due to the manner in which the South African government had smoothly facilitated the visit while it struggles to get Gupta brothers Atul and Rajesh extradited to South Africa from the UAE to face a litany of charges related to political corruption.

The landing of the UAE royals, staff and artists also resembled the illegal and unauthorised landing of a private aircraft carrying 200 guests from India for a wedding of a niece of the Gupta brothers, at the Waterkloof Air Force base in Pretoria in 2013.

The Gupta brothers were arrested in the UAE in June last year but on February 13, a UAE court dismissed South Africa’s request to have the brothers extradited to South Africa.

The briefing on Friday included Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, Police Minister Bheki Cele, Minister of Agriculture Thoko Didiza, Transport Minister Lydia Sindisiwe Chikunga, the directors-general from the relevant departments and the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

Ntshavheni said: “We must assure that the minister of justice and correctional services is due to engage with the ambassador of the UAE on the issues that they did not do, why South Africa was not kept abreast with the developments with the UAE because unlike us, their courts are not open so nobody would’ve known that the matter is sitting but also to say how do we take the process forward. So thereafter our expression of our disquiet, they reached out to say ‘let’s engage and let’s salvage the matter’.

“We continue with confidence that the Guptas will be brought back to this country, and they are engaging with us and we’re engaging with them on how we remedy the situation.”

The president and the entourage were domiciled at a game reserve owned by him in the Eastern Cape, for a two-week stay last month.

The minister of home affairs received an application to consider Bulembo Airport in Bisho as a place of entry, and granted the request.

Motsoaledi said the president and his entourage wanted to land directly in the Eastern Cape due to the amount of cargo.

The Eastern Cape government gave the airport a facelift following a R20 million donation from the UAE.

In 2019, Motsoaledi announced six nationalities that could enter into South Africa visa-free. These included Qatar, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ghana, Cuba, and Sao Tome and Principe. Al Nahyan was, however, accompanied by people from about 32 different countries who required a visa to enter South Africa.

“All those who needed the visas, those visas were issued in our embassy in Abu Dhabi,” Motsoaledi said.

Sars head of air modalities Cassius Sinthumule said a full inspection of the goods was done.

He said all goods were declared and that there was no foreign currency.

Cele confirmed that the guns they brought in were for hunting guns intended for hunting.

“The whole lot of guns that they brought were not allowed to come into the country except a very limited number of firearms and a very limited number of ammunition according to the South African laws,” he said.

“To do that, the special convoy or the special police that deals with the arms issue were sent under the leadership of the provincial commissioner of the Eastern Cape to make sure that everything is according to the law, according to the firearms act of the republic of South Africa, so everything is in order.”

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Cape Argus