UAE treaty means Gupta brothers may no longer be safe in Dubai

EDINBURGH — President Cyril Ramaphosa and his team are evidently intent on bringing the Gupta brothers back to South Africa to account for their starring roles in the state capture scandal. They have prioritised a treaty with the United Arab Emirates, including mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. Ramaphosa promised a clamp down on government corruption. The Gupta brothers are top of the list of most-wanted. This is because the Gupta family played former president Jacob Zuma like a puppet on a string, getting him to push his allies to help wrestle control of state funds in various ways. The Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – hired Zuma’s son, Duduzane, too, as they carried out industrial scale money laundering and used their influence to plunder and damage South African state entities. The Guptas were so successful at manipulating their political connections that Atul Gupta was ranked richer than mining magnate Patrice Motsepe in 2016. This Daily Maverick article is republished here on BizNews, with permission. – Jackie Cameron

By Peter Fabricius

New York: International Relations and Co-operation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that South Africa had wanted an extradition treaty with UAE anyway to protect both sides. But the process had been accelerated “because we did want them to co-operate with us in our search for getting to the bottom of what has now been called State Capture, some of the issues we would like to bring before our courts”.

“Quite frankly we would want the Guptas back. We think it’s the right thing to do and we would like the UAE to assist us to do the right thing,” Sisulu said in a wide-ranging interview. She and several other Cabinet ministers have been in New York with President Cyril Ramaphosa participating in the high-level component of the annual UN General Assembly debate as well as drumming up investment.

Minister of International Relations Lindiwe Sisulu.

Minister of Justice and Correction Services Michael Masutha on Tuesday signed treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), raising hopes that the Gupta brothers will be extradited to face corruption charges in South Africa.

Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta fled to the UAE city of Dubai earlier in 2018 as criminal investigations into alleged corruption accelerated after their friend and ally, former president Jacob Zuma, lost his grip on power.

They have since been spotted in both Dubai and the country of their birth, India.

They and several of their business acquaintances face several charges. Initially, Ajay Gupta was labelled a fugitive by the Hawks who subsequently withdrew the description to avoid jeopardising their investigations.

Widespread allegations of corruption backed up by undisputed evidence against the family were revealed in the #GuptaLeaks and the case against them and their allies in government and the private sector has been bolstered in the five weeks since the Zondo Commission of Inquiry began its investigation.

Commenting on the kidnapping of a South African in Burkina Faso, Sisulu said South African authorities would do everything in their power to save the miner. She said he and two other employees of the mining company had left the mining compound without security, as they normally had. And they had been kidnapped.

“They were in Burkina Faso on legitimate business and so…they are our responsibility and their safety is our responsibility…So we will respond with everything we have to make sure he is alive.”

She said officials would meet the Burkina Faso government first to find out what it was doing and would also consult with the AU before taking further measures.

Sisulu said the government believed he had been kidnapped to get a ransom “so we are hoping that he is alive. There would be no reason why they were kidnapping them if they were not wanting something in return. If they were intending to harm them they would have done it on the point of contact”.

She noted that the mine was in an area where many militant forces operated.

On new US sanctions slapped on Iran, Sisulu said South Africa would be talking to Iran to see how it could navigate around the new sanctions which also apply to other countries which do business with that country.

South Africa’s MTN cellphone service provider has a large business in Iran and has already reported that it might have difficulty repatriating its profits as a result of US financial sanctions.

In November the US also plans to place sanctions on anyone buying crude oil from Iran. About 7% of SA’s oil imports are from Iran but Sisulu said that the government had not yet got to the point of deciding if it would stop buying oil from Iran.

Sisulu said the government did not think unilateral sanctions were a good thing and was unhappy with the US for pulling out of the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) agreement which had been negotiated three years ago between the US Obama administration, some European powers and Russia on the one side and Iran on the other.

The JCPOA lifted sanctions against Iran in exchange for Iran suspending its nuclear programme – which many governments suspected was intended to make atomic weapons.

Sisulu also disclosed that President Ramaphosa had tried to resolve the problems which MTN was having in Nigeria when he met Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari at the UN in New York this week.

Nigerian authorities had demanded that MTN repay $10 billion in money transferred from MTN Nigeria to Johannesburg or in taxes.

Sisulu said she had not yet had a chance to ask Ramaphosa what the outcome of his intervention with Buhari had been.

She said Ramaphosa and Buhari had also been due to discuss Nigeria’s concerns about what it regarded as xenophobia against Nigerians in SA. She noted that earlier this year her Nigerian counterpart had taken her aside at the African Union summit in Mauritania to discuss the problem.

The foreign minister had proposed that they do a TV programme together to broadcast to the Nigerian people. In that joint TV broadcast her counterpart assured Nigerians that Sisulu had agreed to address the problem .

But he had also acknowledged that Nigerians sometimes had “somewhat unethical ways of operating” in South Africa. And therefore he was appealing to them to understand that what they might think was normal might not necessarily be considered normal in other countries.

The minister told Nigerians that they must behave according to the norms and customs of their host countries.

“And I reiterated that Nigerians are very industrious people. But sometimes they are industrious in ways that are completely illegal in South Africa.”

So sometimes when the Nigerians felt they were being targeted, “this is because of our concern over their over-industriousness in ways that undermine our law and order,” Sisulu said.

Some people in government are privately concerned that the December elections in Democratic Republic of Congo could go wrong and that South Africa would be expected to step in to sort out the mess.

But Sisulu expressed no such concerns, insisting that President Joseph Kabila had allayed any concerns about his own intentions when Ramaphosa met him about six or seven weeks ago. Kabila had assured him he would not run for president again. And at the recent SADC summit, the DRC electoral authority had assured regional leaders it was technically ready.

“I have no fears. I would like to think that everyone in the DRC would like to see a peaceful outcome of the elections. That country has experienced too much turmoil to allow a situation where someone like South Africa would have to intervene.”

Sisulu said she was not “overly anxious” about her scheduled meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in New York on Friday.

“There are a number of things I would like to tell him. And one of those is that the path of unilateralism is not going to take us anywhere. And when we seek solutions to problems, working together will always help us.”

She added that although this would be her first face to face meeting with Pompeo, they had communicated a few times by phone “so we’re kind of comfortable with each other”.

Sisulu indicated that some other problems in the US-SA relationship, such as the land reform issue and tariff issues, had already been dealt with or would be dealt with by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies. DM