Two members of the Gupta family have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, the biggest step yet in South Africa’s fight to bring to account the kingpins accused of orchestrating the looting of its state companies.
Rajesh and Atul Gupta were detained by UAE law-enforcement authorities and discussions are taking place on the way forward, South Africa’s Justice Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
A judicial inquiry into state graft spanning more than three years detailed close links between the brothers and former President Jacob Zuma, with numerous witnesses alleging that they worked hand-in-hand to siphon money out of state transport, power and arms companies and jointly decided who was appointed to the cabinet. The government has said at least 500 billion rand ($32 billion) was stolen during Zuma’s nine-year rule.
The Gupta brothers and Zuma have always denied the allegations.
The arrests come a year after the UAE ratified an extradition treaty with South Africa. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s administration first asked the Emirati authorities to extradite members of the Gupta family in 2018, and the US imposed restrictions ranging from visa bans to asset freezes on them the following year. The UK followed suit last year and Interpol placed the two brothers on its most-wanted list in February.
Corruption scandals involving the Guptas and people linked to them are blamed for damaging indebted state power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and rail and ports company Transnet SOC Ltd. McKinsey & Co. has paid back money to both companies after working on contracts with Gupta-linked companies. The US-based consultancy has denied intentional wrongdoing.
South African authorities filed charges against the Guptas in 2018 in connection with a questionable tender to undertake a feasibility survey on a dairy project in the central Free State province, in which a company they controlled was paid 21 million rand.
In December 2015, the Guptas were accused of playing a part in Zuma sacking then-Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene, and replacing him with little-known lawmaker Des Van Rooyen, a move that caused the rand to crash. Van Rooyen was removed four days later and replaced by Pravin Gordhan, who had formerly served in the post, after an outcry from business, the public and members of the ruling African National Congress.
Ramaphosa won’t comment on the arrests, his spokesman Vincent Magwenya said by text message.
“We’ve always said that fighting corruption in SA requires resilience, that if the rule of law is allowed to take its course, those implicated will eventually get their day in court,” said Stefanie Fick, executive head of accountability for the non-profit Organization Undoing tax Abuse. “It seems like that day is around the corner for the Gupta kingpins.”