Facing allegations of corruption, Jacob Zuma stepped down as South Africa’s President on Thursday. His departure marks the beginning of a multi-agency probe into the alleged wealth illegally amassed by three brothers from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur who are known to be close to the former president.
Who are the Gupta Brothers?
The Gupta brothers — Ajay Gupta, Rajesh Gupta and Atul Gupta — migrated to South Africa in 1993. Atul was the first one to move to the country and start the company Sahara Computers, which started off as a small family business. Currently, it employs over 10, 000 people and has an annual turnover of about $22 million, reported BBC.
How did they amass their wealth?
The Gupta brothers have expanded their business in various sectors including mining, air travel, energy, technology and media. The newspaper The New Age and news channel ANN7, owned by the Guptas, paint the Zuma government in favourable colours.
By 2016, Atul Gupta was listed as the seventh richest South African with a personal wealth valued at over $700 million. According to estimates, they have a $3.4 million estate in Johannesburg called Sahara Estate. The estate comprises of at least four mansions and a helipad. Apart from this, they are also the owners of Sir Mark Thatcher’s former Cape Town house. The Gupta properties have also been raided as part of the investigations.
The Zuma connection and the multiple scandals
When it comes to ties, the Gupta and Zuma family are said to be closely linked:
a) Zuma’s son Duduzane was a director of the Sahara Computers and has been involved in the family’s other companies.
b) Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema and one of his daughters have also been employees of the Guptas.
The Gupta brothers have been accused of influencing political decisions in the country and of ‘state capture’. In March 2016, Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas said that a member of the family had offered to promote him to the minister’s post in 2015 in return for state favours. The Guptas denied the allegation just as they had denied a similar allegation in 2010. The family is also alleged to have lobbied against ministers who meddled with the family’s business interests and get them sacked.
The Guptas came under public glare in 2013 when they flew in guests from outside South Africa to family a wedding. The guests arrived in a private Jet Airways Airbus A330 in the Waterkloof Air Force base, which is reserved only for the country’s visiting heads of state.
After uproar in the media and public, Atul Gupta eventually had to give an apology while maintaining that he did nothing wrong. Gupta said he was “simply trying to give (our) daughter… a memorable wedding on South African soil”.
Vrede farm scandal:
A preservation order obtained by the high court also showed how millions of dollars worth of public money, which was originally intended to support poor farmers, was directly deposited into Atul Gupta’s personal account. The order revealed there was no justification for any payment since Atul had no interest in farming nor did he provide any farming services to the Vrede farm project.
A leading PR firm Bell Pottinger was expelled from the country’s PR trade body after it was accused of taking money from a Gupta-owned company for allegedly manufacturing a controversy. According to the BBC, the PR firm created fake Twitter pages which emphasised on the power of white businesses using the hashtag #whitemonopolycapital to allegedly inflame racial tensions and divert attention away from corruption claims being made against the Gupta family and their proximity to Zuma.
The Guptas have been repeatedly accused of securing deals with South Africa’s state-owned companies on favourable terms. In 2016, South Africa’s ethics watchdog published a report stating that state-owned electricity monopoly had given a massive coal order to a business then linked to the Guptas at well above market prices. The report also alleged that former mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane “travelled to Switzerland with the Guptas to help them seal the deal” to buy a struggling coal mine. AFP reported that the family is mentioned 232 times in the report, entitled “State of Capture” because of the influence they wielded. South Africa’s chief prosecutor has now declared Ajay Gupta a “fugitive from justice” on Thursday after he failed to hand himself in to police.
Meanwhile, in India…
The Gupta brothers have been provided Z category security in India by the Uttarkhand government. The brothers were given ‘Y’ category security under the previous Congress regime. Last year, the BJP government upgraded it. The brothers own property in Dehradun, including a palatial house in the city’s Curzon Road area. Rumours suggest that Ajay was in Dehradun at the time of Zuma’s resignation. Interestingly, he has an arrest warrant against him in South Africa and is believed to have left the country in February first week.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, Principal Secretary (Home) Anand Bardhan said, “The Gupta brothers were being provided ‘Y’ category security for quite a few years. After review and analysis by the state government, the security was upgraded in June-July last year to ‘Z’ category.”
Bardhan also said that the security arrangements were paid for by the Guptas and it was CM Trivendra Singh Rawat who finally decided that Ajay and Atul be given ‘Z’ category security. The Principal Secretary also said that the Guptas would be the first businessmen to get Z security cover by Uttarakhand government.
Under ‘Z’ category security, which can be availed by only a few, Ajay and Atul are entitled to four house guards and two personal security officers (PSOs). “The amount they pay should equal the salaries of the six personnel for the period that they guard the brothers,” Dehradun Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Nivedita Kukreti said.