Sat, 15 June 2024
The Daily Ittefaq

The Guptas: The brothers at the heart of South Africa's graft storm

Update : 08 Apr 2023, 08:52

The United Arab Emirates has turned down a South African request to extradite two Indian-born brothers accused of systemically plundering state resources.

A marathon inquiry last year found that the Guptas' ties with Zuma lay at the heart of the scheme, which according to one expert cost South Africa billions of dollars.

Here's a factfile:

The brothers comprise Ajay, Atul and Rajesh ("Tony") Gupta, who hail from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

Led by Atul, the trio arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country's first democratic elections.

Previously small-scale businessmen in India, the Guptas built a sprawling empire involved in computers, mining, media, technology and engineering as the country opened up to foreign investment.

They developed close links with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party focusing particularly on Zuma, well before he became president in 2009.

The New Age, an ardently pro-Zuma newspaper, was launched in 2010, and the 24-hour news channel ANN7 took to the airwaves in 2013 with a similar editorial slant.

The Guptas wove a close relationship with Zuma that extended into his family and reportedly influenced top-level decisions.

Zuma's son Duduzane became a director of Gupta-owned Sahara Computers and was involved with several of the family's other companies.

Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said in March 2015 that the Guptas had offered him the post of finance minister, in return for obeying the family's instructions – for which he would allegedly be paid 600 million rand (US$39 million).

Backbench ANC lawmaker David van Rooyen was revealed to have visited the Guptas' home the night before his brief appointment as finance minister on December 9, 2015.

The relationship with Zuma exploded into public notoriety over a lavish Gupta wedding in 2013.

A jet carrying more than 200 foreign guests landed at Waterkloof Air Force base outside Pretoria – a move approved by Zuma that breached air force, customs and immigration rules. The guests were also accorded a police "blue light" escort.

The Guptas' business empire was repeatedly accused of securing deals with South Africa's giant state-owned companies on wildly favourable terms.

South Africa's ethics watchdog, the Public Protector, published a damning report in October 2016, finding that the state-owned electricity utility Eskom had awarded a massive coal order to a Gupta-linked business at well above market prices.

On the watchdog's recommendation, a judicial inquiry was opened. In 2022, it published a series of lengthy reports after garnering testimonies for four years.

"President Zuma readily opened the doors for the Guptas to go into the State-Owned Enterprises and help themselves to the money and assets of the people of South Africa," the inquiry said bluntly.

Eskom ex-chairman Zola Tsotsi once told lawmakers that Tony Gupta summoned him to a meeting and threatened him with dismissal.

"Tony told me... 'you are not helping us with anything. We are the ones who put you in the position you are in. We are the ones who can take you out!'" he said.

Paul Holden, an investigator who runs an NGO alongside a former ANC MP, has estimated that the cost of the Guptas' alleged illicit activities in South Africa could be as much as 50 billion rand, or more than US$3.2 billion.

As an anti-corruption push gained pace, the brothers fled South Africa to Dubai in 2018.

In June 2021, South Africa and the UAE concluded an extradition treaty.

This was followed by an Interpol "red notice" filed by South Africa for Atul and Rajesh Gupta.

The red notice is an international request to arrest a person sought for prosecution or a custodial sentence and hold them pending extradition.

In June 2022, the pair were arrested in Dubai. A month later South Africa filed an extradition request for them, which has now been turned down by a Dubai court.

The request relates specifically to alleged 25-million-rand (US$1.6-million) fraud linked to an agricultural feasibility study.

The third brother, Ajay, has not been indicted in the case, but has been named in another embezzlement and corruption case.

More on this topic

More on this topic