Updated: June 9, 2022 7:32:31 am
Authorities in the UAE recently arrested Indian-origin businessmen Atul Gupta and Rajesh Gupta for their alleged involvement in government corruption in South Africa.
The arrest comes on the back of a four-year probe by South Africa’s Commission of Inquiry into State Capture that looked into the Gupta brothers’ ties to former President Jacob Zuma. It has been alleged that the three brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – used their powerful connections to influence high-profile appointments, win contrasts and misappropriate state funds.
The family fled South Africa in 2018 when public protests over corruption under Zuma — ‘Zuma Must Fall’ campaign – led to his removal. As multiple witnesses implicated them and Zuma in corruption cases, the Guptas had told the commission they were not prepared to return to South Africa to testify.
Explained: Who are the Gupta brothers?
Originally from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta migrated to South Africa in 1993.
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Atul Gupta first set up a shoe business and later started Sahara Computers. He then went on to expand into industries like mining, air travel, energy, and media. His first meeting with Zuma happened before he became South Africa’s president, at one of the Gupta firm’s functions.
In 2016, Atul Gupta was among the 10 richest South Africans with his wealth valued at $700 million. Zuma’s son, Duduzane, was a director of the Guptas’ Sahara Computers. Zuma’s third wife and one of his daughters were also at one point in time employees of the Guptas.
Such were the ties between the two that a term – Zuptas — was coined to refer to them together, a BBC report said.
In India, the brothers were provided ‘Z’ category security by the Uttarakhand government in 2018, which was an upgrade from ‘Y’ category cover they had enjoyed till then. The brothers own a property in Dehradun and pay the salaries of six personnel assigned to them, a government official said.
What are the allegations against the Gupta brothers?
The brothers are alleged to be involved in many scams that date back to the time after Zuma came to power in 2009. In 2016, South Africa’s ethics watchdog – the Public Protector – published a report stating favourable contracts had been awarded by public sector companies to close associates of the Guptas.
Later, the Zondo Commission, named after the judge who headed it, was set up to investigate “state capture” – systematic political corruption benefiting private interests — during the Zuma years.
“Central to the Guptas’ scheme of state capture was President Zuma, who the Guptas must have identified at a very early stage as somebody whose character was such that they could use him against the people of South Africa, his own country and his own government to advance their own business interests,” the State Capture commission said in a report.
The Guptas’ scandals also brought into focus Bank of Baroda (BoB), when it was reported they opened bank accounts for the brothers at a time when all South African banks had stopped dealing with them.
Elite South African police unit, Hawks, had even raided BoB offices in 2018 while investigating the Guptas’ accounts. The bank later shut down its South Africa operations in 2018, “in line with the bank’s international reorganisation plans”.
Meanwhile, during the course of the investigation, Zuma was found guilty of contempt of court and arrested in June 2021 after refusing to obey a court order to appear before the commission. Zuma had then claimed the commission was biased against him. He is currently out on medical parole but has been asked to return by the court.
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Will the Gupta brothers face the law in South Africa?
South Africa had previously appealed to the UN because it does not have an extradition treaty with the UAE to allow bringing the brothers to the country. The UAE authorities said they arrested the brothers after receiving an Interpol “red notice”. Red Notices are issued for wanted fugitives, to alert law agencies globally to arrest such persons until extradition.
“Discussions between various law enforcement agencies in the UAE and South Africa on the way forward are ongoing. The South African government will continue to cooperate with the UAE,” said a statement by the South African Justice Ministry.
Analysts said the actual progress in the case could take a few more years, as the brothers would try to exhaust all avenues available to them to avoid extradition.
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