JOHANNESBURG — A senior South African diplomat has been suspended over use of a military airport by wealthy Indian supporters of President Jacob Zuma, the government said Thursday, amid a deepening political scandal.
The foreign ministry's chief of protocol Bruce Koloane was placed on leave pending an investigation into how the Guptas, a wealthy Indian family, landed at a military airforce base outside Pretoria en route to a wedding.
A large charter plane landed at Waterkloof air force base on Tuesday carrying 200 guests who received a full police escort to the Sun City resort for the four-day wedding of 23-year-old Vega Gupta.
Media reports said Bollywood singers and actors were among the guests at what was promoted as the "wedding of the year.”
But revelations that the plane used a facility supported by taxpayers prompted a political furor, with some of Zuma's closest allies demanding answers.
The foreign ministry said "no executive authority" was granted to approve the landing, but that "some officials" were involved.
As a result Koloane was placed on "compulsory leave" pending a probe into "the circumstances under which the clearances for the aircraft to land were secured."
That brought allegations of a coverup and suggestions that Koloane was being made a scapegoat, both of which were rejected by the government.
The Gupta family, originally from India, is one of the richest in South Africa, and well-known benefactors of the ruling ANC.
The family owns a range of businesses including Sahara Computers and the pro-government New Age newspaper.
The family on Wednesday said it had received permission for the aircraft, which was carrying "foreign ministers and other dignitaries," to land at the base.