Why the Gupta brothers, in exile in Dubai, still escape South African justice

During a demonstration denouncing corruption in South Africa, April 7, 2017, in Pretoria.
During a demonstration denouncing corruption in South Africa, April 7, 2017, in Pretoria. MUJAHID SAFODIEN / AFP

When the South African Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, visited Abu Dhabi for several days in December, everyone wondered: would he return accompanied by the Gupta brothers so that they were finally heard by a South African court? Answer: no, of course. The Minister's delegation returned from the United Arab Emirates without Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta.

The three brothers of Indian origin, who now live in Dubai, are at the center of the so-called "capture of the state" scandal, a vast network of influence that hovered over South African political life during the past decade, making and defeating ministers and deciding on large contracts. Long considered untouchable, the Gupta have become the most hated family in South Africa, a symbol of widespread corruption under the presidency of Jacob Zuma (2009-2018), whose resignation is largely linked to his close ties to the Gupta.

Read also In South Africa, the fall of the Gupta Empire

The police estimate the funds diverted by the siblings at 2.5 billion euros; a siphoning of large-scale public accounts from which the country is still struggling to recover. For President Cyril Ramaphosa, repatriating the Gupta (some of whom hold a South African passport) would be an opportunity to honor his promise to fight corruption; but he seems less in a hurry than many South Africans. "People are impatient, but sometimes the law takes a long time and you have to accept it " he said in October.

Translation issue

Except that his Minister of Justice has decided to move up a gear by taking part in the conference of States Parties to the United Nations Convention against Corruption, expediently organized in December in … the United Arab Emirates. There, Ronald Lamola was able to meet one-on-one with his Emirati counterpart. Objective: pressure the government to finally ratify the extradition treaty between the Emirates and South Africa.

Dubai, where the Gupta brothers live in a house estimated at 25 million euros near the marina, has always served as their rear base, even when they operated in South Africa. Does Emir Mohammed Ben Rachid al-Maktoum, Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, want to protect them? This is what former British Minister Peter Hain suggested to the commission responsible for investigating corruption in South Africa: "Emir al-Maktoum must be asked about the reasons why the family is not extradited. Either the al-Maktoum government intentionally conceals a family that has looted countless funds in South Africa, or the South African authorities are not really willing to try them. "

Read also In South Africa, the great unpacking on corruption at the time of Jacob Zuma

The two states, however, already discussed at length on the subject in 2018 and even signed the extradition treaty. Problem: the Emirates are slow to ratify it, its Parliament invoking a problem in the translation of the text. "This excuse is not credible", considers the South African magistrate Mohammed Moolla. Minister Ronald Lamola does not like the delay much, for whom the delay would be more like a refusal: "South Africa is concerned about certain states which are masters in the art of rejecting or refusing the ratification of extradition treaties", he said, before adding that " these states risk becoming havens of corruption ".

American sanctions

The other unknown concerns South African motivations. Among the many accusations against the Gupta, most involve dignitaries from the African National Congress (ANC, in power), some of whom still have prominent responsibilities in the country and within the party. Mohammed Moolla believes in a return " faster than you think »Of the Gupta brothers in South Africa, "Unless someone in government has an interest in not seeing them return."

Technically, Ronald Lamola could actually already request extradition using the United Nations Convention against Corruption, of which the Emirates are a signatory. " It is wrong to think that we absolutely need a bilateral treaty to extradite the Gupta, says specialist lawyer Anton Katz. The convention is sufficient, provided that the laws of the two countries correspond. " In this case, UAE law recognizes many financial crimes such as fraud, embezzlement and corruption.

Read also Washington sanctions the Gupta brothers, close to the former South African president Zuma

In its hunt for the Gupta, South Africa received heavy support in October. The United States entered the dance by freezing the assets of the three brothers on their territory and by prohibiting any American entity to do business with them. The Treasury accuses them of having " stole hundreds of millions of dollars through illicit schemes with the government " from Pretoria.


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