SA vows diplomatic blitz to arrest Gupta brothers after feeling ‘undermined’ by UAE extradition rejection

By S’thembile Cele

South Africa pledged legal and diplomatic action to capture the Gupta brothers after a court in the United Arab Emirates rejected a request to extradite the men wanted in the African nation on charges of money laundering and fraud.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government plans to appeal the ruling in the UAE and will take up the issue at the United Nations Convention Against Corruption taking place in the US in December, according to Doctor Mashabane, director-general at the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development.

The UAE decision shocked South Africans looking for uplifting news amid economic gloom, and was received with dismay by the authorities, Mashabane said. 

“We got the sense that we are not being taken seriously” by the UAE, Mashabane, the top bureaucrat in the department, said in an interview on Wednesday. “When we deal with serious democracies and legal systems in the world, and we see how their officials go out of their way to assist and vice versa, in this case we really felt undermined.”

Read more: UAE Court denies South Africa’s plea to extradite Guptas

Atul and Rajesh Gupta allegedly worked closely with the nation’s former president, Jacob Zuma, to siphon money from state transport, power and arms companies, and jointly decided who was appointed to the cabinet. Ramaphosa said in 2019 that at least $32 billion may have been stolen during his predecessor’s tenure. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.

The UAE on April 7 said the request didn’t “meet the strict standards for legal documentation.” South Africa could resubmit the extradition request with new and additional documentation, state news agency WAM reported, citing the UAE justice minister.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the nation referred a Bloomberg request for comment on Thursday to the April 7 statement.

The UAE, South Africa’s seventh-largest trading partner, provided Ramaphosa’s government with a summary of February’s ruling — in Arabic — in April. The Middle Eastern nation has yet to provide the full judgment to the South African authorities, Mashabane said, questioning the UAE’s commitment to give assistance on bringing the Guptas to justice. 

Read more: Guptas submit bids for asylum, AI reports

“On the balance of evidence their bona fides are very questionable, even though we gave them the benefit of the doubt,” Mashabane said. “But they have proved to us that they are not committed to cooperation. They have other bigger concerns and interests on this matter, rather than giving us assistance.”

South Africa waited years for the UAE to sign an extradition treaty. The Middle Eastern nation finally signed the accord on the eve of a determination by the Financial Action Task Force on its standing on money laundering. The UAE has also denied South Africa access to banking records, which would have strengthened its case against the Guptas.

The India-born Gupta brothers — who are citizens of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu — have applied for asylum in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, and were seen in Switzerland in late March, Africa Intelligence said in different reports earlier this month, without citing anyone.

South Africa will engage with the Swiss authorities if it’s determined that the brothers, who are also South African citizens, are in that country. Ramaphosa’s government is also considering working with Vanuatu, even though its doesn’t have an embassy there.

Read more: Guptas, supposedly in UAE custody, spotted in Switzerland – reports

The South African Police Service said on Thursday that Interpol red notices for the Gupta brothers are still active.

“Should these fugitives visit other countries, they will be arrested and we will be informed,” SAPS spokeswoman Athlenda Mathe said by text message.

Africa’s most-industrialized nation has spent more than 1 billion rand ($54 million) in a bid to bring the Guptas to book, including a four-year long judicial probe where dozens of witnesses testified about the role of the family in state corruption.

“We believe the net will tighten and there will be very few countries that they can run to,” Mashabane said. “They are without access to US dollar-denominated transactions, it may look like they are elusive now and we are struggling to catch them, but the level of freedom will be very limited.”

With assistance from Zainab Fattah, Paul Vecchiatto and Mpho Hlakudi.

© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.