Two brothers from the wealthy Gupta family have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates. They’re wanted by South Africa on criminal and money-laundering charges. But will they be extradited?
“Look we’re talking about nine years of alleged corruption, money laundering and fraud that was all under the oversight of former president Jacob Zuma…”CNN
“Now the Gupta brothers had a vast network of influence within the government that went right to the top… and there were very few sectors or departments within the government that they didn’t touch”.CNN
During the 1990s, they built a business empire across South Africa.
They have interests in mining, air travel, energy, technology, and media and they have connections in high places.
One particular connection was with the man who ran South Africa for nine years: president Jacob Zuma.
It’s claimed that while he was in office the Guptas wielded huge political influence and used bribes to further their business interests – what’s known as state capture.
“Corruption is estimated by South Africa’s government to have cost the economy $700 billion. For many, former President Jacob Zuma is the symbol of that corruption…”Al Jazeera
Both Jacob Zuma and the Gupta brothers deny any wrongdoing, describing allegations against them as politically motivated.
But when Jacob Zuma was forced to resign in 2018 after coming under pressure from his party, the Gupta brothers left the country for Dubai.
Four years later, and they’ve been arrested, so what happens next?
The Gupta brothers’ arrest has been a long time coming.
In July 2021, Interpol, the global police agency, issued a notice for their arrest.
“Red alert notices for Atul and Rajesh Gupta, their wives and four others outside South Africa have today been issued by Interpol… they’re accused of irregularly awarding a 25 million rand contract for that feasibility study on the failed… dairy farm project.”eNCA
Interpol said they were being sought for fraud and money laundering in connection with a contract worth about £1.3 million, which was paid to a Gupta-linked company to conduct an agricultural feasibility study.
“Now it seems like the global cat and mouse game has finally come to an end. Gupta brothers Rajesh and Atul are currently behind bars after news of their arrest last night.”eNCA
So why has the United Arab Emirates arrested them now?
The UAE is a popular destination for the super-rich, but has been criticised for regulatory oversights that allow money laundering through banks, numerous exchange houses and general trading companies.
And in March, the international Financial Action Task Force, or FATF, said the country would be added to the “grey” list.
That list consists of countries subject to increased monitoring for “strategic deficiencies” in countering money laundering and terrorist financing. There are 23 on it at the moment, including Pakistan, Syria, Panama, Turkey and Albania.
Being on the list risks reputational damage, causes trouble accessing global finance, and leads to higher transaction costs.
It’s a huge setback for the UAE which faces growing competition from neighbouring Saudi Arabia.
So the UAE responded by saying it would move more quickly to deal with the problem and work with the FATF to tackle financial crime.
Arresting the Gupta brothers is a signal that it’s cracking down. But how likely is it that they’ll be extradited to South Africa?
“The mutual assistance agreement between South Africa and the UAE makes it clear that this is just the start…”Professor Pierre de Vos, University of Cape Town, SABC News
This is Professor Pierre de Vos, University of Cape Town Chair in Constitutional Governance, speaking to SABC News.
“There has to now be a request after the arrest for an extradition then there’s the first round to see if the minimum requirements are met including that they are being charged for a crime that is also similarly prohibited in Dubai… in the UAE. It has to happen within the legal system of that country.”Professor Pierre de Vos, University of Cape Town, SABC News
This is just the beginning of a long process. The Gupta brothers and their lawyers will fight hard to avoid extradition.
Here’s Corruption Watch’s Karam Singh speaking to Al Jazeera…
“Presumably these suspects will be brought before a court, and they will then utilise their rights to try to resist the extradition… but if they’re petition to stop the extradition is not successful, then we would expect to see that that request ratified by the relevant authorities and then for them to be physically put on a plane and brought back to South Africa but it could take some time.”Karam Singh, Corruption Watch, Al Jazeera
And even if the Gupta brothers are extradited to South Africa, their cases could take years.
But for South Africans, their arrest is one step closer to tackling the state capture that riddled their country for decades.
Today’s episode was written and mixed by Imy Harper.