March 19, 2018 / 1:16 PM / 6 months ago

South African court grounds Gupta jet in case brought by Canadian credit agency

JOHANNESBURG, March 19 (Reuters) - South Africa's High Court ruled on Monday that a luxury jet leased by the Gupta family, friends of ousted president Jacob Zuma, should be grounded after the Canadian credit agency that financed the lease cancelled its loan to the Guptas.

The three Gupta brothers are at the centre of graft and influence-peddling allegations surrounding Zuma, who was forced from office last month by the ruling African National Congress.

Zuma and the Guptas, whose relationship will be the focus of a corruption inquiry led by a top South African judge, have denied any wrongdoing.

Canadian export credit agency EDC, which supports Canadian firms doing business abroad, lent a Gupta company $41 million in 2015 to lease the Bombardier jet.

But it cancelled that loan agreement last year after the Guptas missed loan repayments. EDC applied to a South African court to have the jet grounded.

A registrar at the High Court said it had ruled that the Bombardier jet should be stored at Johannesburg's Lanseria airport pending the outcome of a legal dispute in Britain, where the Guptas are disputing EDC's cancellation of the loan agreement.

The Guptas, officials from their companies and their family representatives could not be reached for comment.

The exact whereabouts of the Gupta brothers and the Bombardier jet they had leased are not publicly known after the tracking device on the jet was switched off.

Ajay Gupta has been declared a "fugitive from justice" and is known to have left South Africa for Dubai in February.

Phil Taylor, spokesman for the Canadian firm, said it was "pleased with the favourable ruling and expects an orderly handover of the aircraft pursuant to the court order."

Reporting by Alexander Winning Editing by James Macharia and Richard Balmforth

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