UAE Refuses To Extradite Graft-Accused Gupta Brothers – OpEd


United Arab Emirates (UAE) has ultimately turned down the official request by South Africa to extradite Atul and Rajesh Gupta, the two brothers accused of orchestrating industrial-scale corruption. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola bluntly accused the UAE of “non-cooperation” after being informed April 6 of a court ruling against extraditing tycoons Atul and Rajesh Gupta.

Some reports, however, explained that there had been problems with South Africa’s paperwork and the South African authorities had been briefed “at every step.” The two Guptas, along with a third brother, Ajay, built a sprawling business empire in South Africa over two decades after migrating from India.

South African investigators say they colluded with former president Jacob Zuma to siphon off state assets under a system that, according to one estimate, cost several billion dollars. They fled the country in 2018 as pressure over the scandal began to mount.

Last year, South Africa and the UAE signed an extradition treaty, and in July South Africa applied for Atul and Rajesh Gupta to be handed over after the pair were arrested in Duba. South Africa’s case centres on an alleged 25-million-rand ($1.6-million) fraud linked to an agricultural feasibility study. Ajay Gupta has not been indicted in the case, but has been named in another embezzlement and corruption case.

Experts have consistently argued that South Africa and United Arab Emirates have to set a good precedent. United Arab Emirates has to cooperate and help South Africa to fight deep-seated corruption. Collaborative and mighty efforts, such as tracking down and bringing to justice, the corrupt business people who link up with politicians have to be intensified not only in South Africa but also across the continent.

Western and European countries should assist to disclose illicit flow of money out of Africa. Arguably, Africa need funds to push its development, support millions of impoverished population and yet illicit flow of money is rapidly increasing over the past several years.

Under President Cyril Ramaphosa, the story seems interestingly different with what is popular referred to as the “State Capture” in South Africa. After Jacob Zuma was pushed out of office and expelled from the African National Congress (ANC), Ramaphosa has the practical motivation to fight corruption and desire to set up the Truth Commission.

The Truth Commission has completed and presented its report, it remains to implement the draconian recommendations, one of which is to issue an arrest warrant for the Guptas. Reports say Rajesh and Atul Gupta were detained by UAE law-enforcement authorities and discussions are taking place on the way forward. Thus, the world watches the arrest of the two brothers from the wealthy Gupta family in the United Arab Emirates.

A judicial inquiry into state graft spanning more than three years detailed close links between the brothers and former president Jacob Zuma, with numerous witnesses alleging that they worked hand-in-hand to siphon money out of state transport, power and arms companies and jointly decided who was appointed to the cabinet. The government said, at least, 500 billion rand ($32 billion) was stolen during Zuma’s nine-year rule.

The arrests come a year after the UAE ratified an extradition treaty with South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration first asked the Emirati authorities to extradite members of the Gupta family in 2018, and the US imposed restrictions ranging from visa bans to asset freezes on them the following year. The UK followed suit last year and Interpol placed the two brothers on its most-wanted list in February.

Atul and Rajesh Gupta stand accused in South Africa of profiting from their close links with former president Jacob Zuma and exerting unfair influence. The brothers fled South Africa after a judicial commission began probing their involvement in corruption in 2018. They are accused of paying financial bribes in order to win lucrative state contracts and influence powerful government appointments.

The family moved from India to South Africa in 1993. They also face accusations of money laundering in India, where tax officials raided properties belonging to them in 2018 in multiple cities, including their company office in capital Delhi. Many of the most serious corruption allegations levelled against the Indian-born brothers focus on their relationship with Jacob Zuma, who was president of South Africa from 2009 until he was forced to step down amid a storm of corruption allegations nine years later.

The Gupta family is accused of using their close links with Zuma to wield enormous political power across all levels of South African government – winning business contracts, influencing high-profile government appointments and misappropriating state funds.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) concurred with the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) that this was a blatant abuse of political power. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing. After the brothers fled the country, South Africa negotiated an extradition treaty with the UAE in 2021.

Many of the companies in the Gupta portfolio profited from lucrative contracts with government departments and state-owned corporations – where public officials say they were directly instructed by the family to take decisions that would advance the brothers’ business interests.

The list of public bodies accused of having been “captured” is extensive – the ministries of finance, natural resources and public enterprises, as well as agencies responsible for tax collection and communications, the state broadcaster SABC, the national carrier, South African Airways, the state-owned rail-freight operator and the energy giant Eskom – one of the largest utility companies on the planet.

A four-year investigation published by the country’s top judge concluded that the wealthy brothers had become deeply embedded in the highest levels of government and Zuma’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. The investigators accused the brothers of being linked to racketeering activity through the procurement of rail, ports and pipeline infrastructure.

South Africa’s Sunday Times newspaper reported several years that one of the highest profile among the suspected Gupta-linked firings was former Finance Minster Pravin Gordhan, who later accused the family of being involved in “suspicious” transactions worth about $490m (£400m), which they deny.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported about the business backgrounds of the Zumas and the Guptas. Bongi Ngema-Zuma, one of the president’s wives, used to work for the Gupta-controlled JIC Mining Services as a communications officer. The family reportedly paid for her 3.8m rand Pretoria mansion. They have denied all these allegations.

Duduzile Zuma, his daughter, was a director at Sahara Computers. She began working for them six months after her father was elected as ANC president. She has since resigned. Duduzane Zuma, Jacob Zuma’s son, was a director of some Gupta-owned companies but stepped down in 2016 following public pressure.

Their heavily guarded family Sahara Estate in Johannesburg’s affluent Saxonwold suburb comprises at least four mansions which can be seen from the tree-lined avenue. The estate is now valued at about 52m rand ($3.4m; £2.3m).

The complex even boasts a helicopter pad, while the family enjoys the services of five personal chefs and regularly travels with bodyguards. They also own the former Cape Town home of Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. The family is 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.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party called on the family to leave South Africa, saying the country could not be held to ransom by a “corrupt cartel” with “mafia” tendencies. By coming together, South Africa and United Arab Emirates will vividly show that the time has arrived to take drastic action against state corruption. Ramaphosa’s government hopes the arrest would lead to the return of the Guptas to face charges.

South Africans, committed to corruption fight, say the latest development offers an uneraseable points for future reference. South Africa looses a lot through corruption. Africa looses over $50 billion a year through illicit flows plus corruption, equivalent to all annual official development assistance (ODA), or loans from international development organizations.

There are several reports indicating that global corruption is now costing around $1 trillion annually, there are common causes of Africa’s corruption, and this is adversely impacting the lives of African people. Corruption creates economic distortions and hampers potential investments.

The 12th Regional Conference of Heads of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa convened in Kigali, Rwanda, from May 3-7 under the theme: ‘Combating Corruption for Good Governance and Sustainable Development in Africa’ and it was meant to share knowledge and good practices and to discuss approaches in the fight against corruption, and the impacts of corruption on sustainable development in Africa.

The significance of that conference was underlined by the fact that over the years, corruption has been an unerasable characteristic feature of African politics and business, from the Maghreb down to the Southern African Development Community, from the East African Community and the Horn of Africa across the Sahel region to the Atlantic coastal West African States.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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