The Gupta brothers, Atul, Rajesh and Ajay, became infamous for their alleged involvement in corruption during Jacob Zuma’s presidency in South Africa. They reportedly used their business ties to Zuma’s son, Duduzane, to influence cabinet appointments and secure state contracts worth billions of dollars. The brothers fled to Dubai in 2018 after Zuma was forced to resign, and were charged with graft later that year. In 2022, two of the brothers were arrested in Dubai in connection with money laundering and other criminal charges in South Africa, but were freed after a court refused to extradite them. Their alleged wrongdoing includes involvement in a questionable tender for a dairy project and influencing the appointment of cabinet members. Read more below.
Meet the Guptas, symbols of South African corruption
By Renee Bonorchis
The three Gupta brothers have come to embody the corruption that blighted South African President Jacob Zuma’s almost nine-year rule. They allegedly used their friendship with the president and business ties to his son, Duduzane, to influence cabinet appointments and illicitly secure state contracts worth billions of dollars. They fled South Africa for Dubai in early 2018 after the ruling party forced Zuma to quit and were charged with graft later that year. Two of the Gupta brothers were arrested in Dubai in 2022 but they were freed after a court refused to extradite them to face trial in South Africa.
1. Who are the Guptas?
The three brothers — Atul, Rajesh and Ajay — became so enmeshed in national politics under Zuma that their families and associates were collectively known as the Zuptas. The brothers arrived in South Africa from India in the early 1990s as apartheid rule was drawing to a close. Starting with a small technology company, they built a business empire spanning newspapers, cable television, uranium and coal mines. They set up a sprawling compound in Johannesburg’s upmarket Saxonwold suburb, bought a fleet of luxury cars and threw lavish parties. Their public notoriety dates back to 2013, when they landed an aircraft at a high-security air force base to ferry private guests to an opulent, four-day family wedding. In February 2018, police raided their compound, while immigration officials descended on the offices of one of the TV stations they used to own. The Guptas, Zuma and his son have denied wrongdoing.
2. How did the arrests happen?
Dubai police said they detained Rajesh and Atul Gupta in June 2022 “in connection with money laundering and other criminal charges in South Africa.” The arrests came months after Interpol placed the brothers on its most-wanted list and issued a so-called red notice requesting the help of international law enforcement agencies to hunt them down. The charges include involvement in a questionable tender to undertake a feasibility survey on a dairy project in South Africa’s central Free State province, in which a company controlled by the Guptas was paid $1.4 million.
3. So why were they freed?
While the United Arab Emirates (which includes Dubai) and South Africa entered into an extradition agreement in April 2021, the Dubai Court of Appeal found that legal documentation standards required for the Guptas to be repatriated hadn’t been met. That decision was conveyed to Pretoria in April 2023, two months after the court made its decision. South Africa reacted with outrage, saying its work to combat graft had been undermined.
4. What else are the Guptas alleged to have done?
They have been implicated in a litany of other crimes. An initial public investigation was carried out in 2016 by then-Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who produced a 355-page report called State of Capture. It detailed allegations that the Guptas may have influenced the appointment of cabinet members and that a coal business linked to the family and Duduzane Zuma received special treatment at the request of top politicians. Madonsela ordered the establishment of a judicial commission to probe Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas. Seven months after the release of her report, a vast trove of documents and emails between the Guptas and their associates was leaked to the media and story after story about their questionable dealings were published.
5. What happened at the judicial commission?
Madonsela’s directive led to the establishment of a panel chaired by Raymond Zondo, now the country’s chief justice. After hearings that lasted more than three years, he released a series of damning reports that alleged that the Guptas were part of a wide-ranging scheme to defraud the state with Zuma’s tacit consent. The looting spree was said to have hobbled state power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and freight rail and ports operator Transnet SOC Ltd., and the economy continues to suffer the fallout. President Cyril Ramaphosa said in 2019 that at least $32 billion may have been stolen during his predecessor’s tenure and the actual figure could be more than double that amount.
6. Is Zuma facing charges?
Yes, but they aren’t related to his dealings with the Guptas. Zuma was convicted of contempt of court in 2021 for refusing to testify before Zondo and sentenced to 15 months in prison. The prisons department released him on medical parole after he had served less than two months. He’s also facing trial on graft charges linked to an arms deal that dates back to the 1990s. Prosecutors are still working their way through Zondo’s findings and more charges could follow.
© 2023 Bloomberg L.P.