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South Africa's Guptas to challenge influence-peddling report at inquiry

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa’s wealthy Gupta family, which has been accused of holding undue political sway over President Jacob Zuma, said on Thursday it would defend itself at a judicial inquiry demanded by an anti-corruption watchdog.

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma waits to address a rally of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in Port Elizabeth, South Africa April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

The carefully worded Public Protector report into alleged influence-peddling stopped short of saying crimes had been committed but said a judge must probe a scandal that has rattled markets in Africa’s most industrialised economy and increased the risk of ratings downgrades.

Titled “State of Capture”, the 355-page report by the constitutionally mandated watchdog listed several allegations against Zuma, the Guptas, two cabinet ministers and executives at state-owned firms. It did not reach conclusive findings.

The three Indian-born Gupta brothers - Ajay, Atul and Rajesh - are accused of using their friendship with the president to influence cabinet appointments.

Zuma denies granting undue influence to the brothers, who run a business empire from media to mining.

They have denied seeking it, and will defend their corner at the planned inquiry, their lawyer, Gert van de Merwe, said.

“We will participate and we will participate comprehensively,” he told eNCA television.

“I’ve always said that if we apply for review of the report of the Public Protector, it will be on the basis that we’ve not been afforded the opportunity to participate,” he said.

The Guptas, who refer to themselves in statements as the ‘Gupta Family’, were studying the report, he added.

Zuma’s office has said he is doing the same and reserves the right to challenge its findings in court.

The report, compiled by Thuli Madonsela, who reached the end of her tenure as Public Protector on Oct. 14, was released on Wednesday, hours after Zuma withdrew a court bid to delay its publication.

Analysts said although the report did not carry a knock-out punch, it had piled even more pressure on Zuma to resign.

Since taking office in 2009, Zuma, 74, has survived several corruption scandals with the backing of top echelons of the ANC and the party’s hefty majority in parliament.

Reporting by James Macharia; Editing by Ed Cropley