Johannesburg - The Guptas have been fired as special advisers to the prime minister of Lesotho, and their diplomatic passports have been revoked.
Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili has removed the politically connected Atul Gupta and his nephew Essa Omar Aziz as his special advisers, and has cancelled the passports they obtained controversially last August.
His spokesperson, Motumi Ralejoe, told City Press that Mosisili had no use for them.
“The prime minister said he doesn’t need them as advisers. The home affairs minister was left with no option but to tell them that their services are no longer needed by the coalition government, and therefore they had to give back the diplomatic passports,” he said.
Former prime minister Tom Thabane appointed Gupta and Aziz as special advisers in August, saying he needed them to market Lesotho in the Middle East.
Thabane said he had been introduced to the Guptas by President Jacob Zuma.
“These people [the Guptas] are good friends of the ANC and we have good relations with the ANC,” he was quoted as saying.
“I appointed them to help scout for investment in my country. They have influence in a number of countries that can help Lesotho.”
The Lesotho Times reported that Home Affairs Minister Lekhetho Rakuoane told Parliament that he had investigated the circumstances under which the Guptas were hired.
“We are working together with the prime minister’s office in dealing with the Gupta matter. The prime minister has made it very clear that he does not want the Guptas as his special advisers,” Rakuoane reportedly said.
Asked what services the Guptas had provided, Ralejoe said he did not know.
“That’s a million-dollar question. We don’t know and we are not interested,” he said.
He could not immediately say how much the Guptas had received as special advisers, or if they had been paid at all.
Ralejoe said Mosisili had not met or spoken to the Guptas since becoming prime minister.
“They are controversial figures in your country. The prime minister didn’t want to get involved in that,” he said.
Atul Gupta could not be reached on the phone yesterday. The Guptas’ spokesperson, Gary Naidoo, was also unavailable.
Meanwhile, the security situation in Lesotho is deteriorating again after a former head of the defence force was shot dead earlier this week.
The defence ministry said Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao, head of the defence force for a short time last year under Thabane, was shot dead during an operation on Thursday evening to arrest “conspirators in an alleged coup”.
A man who identified himself as Mahao’s brother told a local radio station that his brother was in a car with his two sons when soldiers in three vehicles stopped the car and fired at him. His assailants threw his body on to a bakkie before driving away.
The latest incident is one of many over the past few months that further threaten the already fragile political situation in the country. – Additional reporting by Pieter Malan.