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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

South Africa in talks with UAE over repatriating Gupta brothers

Indian-born businessmen reportedly fled to Dubai in 2016 after allegations of using friendship with former president Zuma to win contracts

Members of the Hawks special police unit raid the compound of the Gupta family in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 14, 2018. Kim Ludbrook / EPA
Members of the Hawks special police unit raid the compound of the Gupta family in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 14, 2018. Kim Ludbrook / EPA

South African officials are in talks with the UAE to secure the repatriation of members of the Gupta family, who are accused of working with former president Jacob Zuma to loot hundreds of millions of dollars from state funds.

The Indian family reportedly fled South Africa to Dubai in 2016 after allegations it used its friendship with Mr Zuma to win contracts and influence government appointments.

“Discussions are taking place between the UAE and representatives of the South African Justice Ministry around the Guptas,” Mukoni Ratshitanga, a spokesman for the ministry, told The National.

“We do not have an extradition treaty [with the UAE] but are having talks around mutual legal assistance on this matter.”

The National spoke to Abdul Rahman Murad Al Balushi, director of the International Cooperation Department at the Ministry of Justice and who is in charge of extradition and repatriation, who said that he has not received the case. Mr Al Balushi said the case could be with Interpol, but that it had not to date reached the Ministry of Justice.

The Gupta brothers — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh — are said to have been at the centre of Mr Zuma’s inner circle, and their relationship with the former president was so close that two of the three brothers — Atul and Rajesh — were given South African citizenship. Meanwhile, Mr Zuma’s son, Duduzane, was employed in the Guptas’ business empire. He, too, fled the country.

Allegations against them include channeling hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts to their own business — a process known as “state capture”.

The country’s power utility Eskom Holdings, national airline South African Airways, Transnet — the freight rail, port and pipelines operators — arms manufacturer Denel and even a poverty-relief campaign are said to have been linked to the Guptas and their allies.

“We speculated that 100 billion rand (Dh29.4bn) or more could have been lost to state capture,” said Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin Gordhan, whose office oversees state companies.

Despite allegations in local and international media of rampant fraud, the Guptas were able to avoid an official investigation due to their close friendship with Mr Zuma — who was ousted as president of South Africa in February. In 2016, they moved to the UAE as media attention grew and civic and parliamentary groups called for an investigation.

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The Gupta brothers allegedly continued to conduct business from their place of residence in The Oberoi hotel in Dubai. However, things took a turn for the worse for the Guptas when businessman Cyril Ramaphosa was elected to lead the ruling African National Congress in December 2017.

Mr Ramaphosa vowed to end corruption ahead of the national elections next year, ousting Mr Zuma and his allies — some of whom had ties to the Guptas. Corruption charges have also been filed against Mr Zuma.

A South African judicial commission is currently probing the allegations against the Guptas and their allies.

Nathi Mncube, a spokesman for the country’s judiciary, said that the committee was analysing “thousands” of documents and data relating to a number of accusations and cases that are received daily. The State Capture Commission of Inquiry is headed by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

Mr Ratshitanga said that talks with the UAE pertained not only to the Guptas but to anyone involved in state capture.

“The discussions will involve anyone who South African authorities believe can assist in the [investigation] of state capture,” he said.