US & Canada

Canada in court to get $41m Bombardier jet back from Gupta family

Bombardier Global 6000 jet Image copyright AFP
Image caption A similar jet to the one owned by Westdawn

A Canadian bank is fighting in court to get back a $41m (£29.5m) jet from a wealthy South African family.

There is just one caveat - the bank does not know where the plane is.

Export Development Canada (EDC) was in court in South Africa on Friday trying to order the Guptas to reveal the plane's location and return it to them.

The bank says it lent the family money in 2015 to buy the Bombardier jet, but has since defaulted on the loan. The family denies it missed any payments.

The South African court will reserve ruling for a later date.

What happened to the plane?

The plane is currently in the possession of Westdawn, a company owned by the Gupta family.

The EDC says that on 4 February, soon after the bank began default proceedings, Westdawn turned off the plane's location data, making it untraceable.

"As we sit today, my client cannot tell where the aircraft is," EDC's lawyer Alfred Cockrell, told a Johannesburg court as reported by the Guardian.

Image copyright Gallo Images
Image caption Brothers Ajay and Atul, members of the wealthy Gupta family

Who are the Guptas?

Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta relocated to South Africa from India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh in Saharanpur in 1993, just as white minority rule was ending and the country was opening up to the rest of the world. The family is closely connected to South Africa's ousted president, Jacob Zuma.

The family, which owns several multi-million-dollar businesses, has been accused of wielding enormous political influence in South Africa, with critics alleging that it is trying to "capture the state" to advance its business interests.

On 14 February, a day before EDC filed their claim with the South African courts, the Guptas' family homes were raided by South African police. Ajay Gupta has been declared a "fugitive from justice".

What was the agreement?

In April 2015, EDC agreed to lend the company Westdawn $41m to buy a jet from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier, or about 80% of the jet's total cost.

The bank, which is run by the federal government, helps Canadian exporters secure insurance and credit. In this case, the bank's loan helped secure a major deal for Canadian-company Bombardier, which at that time was on the brink of bankruptcy.

But by autumn 2017, Westdawn had defaulted on the loan, EDC claims. Westdawn contends they never missed and payments, and the matter is currently waiting to be heard in a UK court.

That case could take years, the EDC says, and in the meantime, the bank wants the South African court to order the Guptas to keep the plane grounded.

In documents filed with the court, EDC's lawyers express concern that the jet could be used for "illicit activity" or be repossessed by foreign governments, and that any criminal activity associated with the plane could harm the reputation of the EDC.

"The (EDC)... do not want it to be suggested that they are in any way supporting the Gupta respondents activity," EDC's lawyers argue in their filings.

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