South Africa sends top officials to UAE over Gupta extraditions

Justice minister Ronald Lamola. (Photo: Leila Dougan) | State capture kingpin Atul Gupta on 27 September 2010. (Photo: Gallo Images / Foto24 / Felix Dlangamandla)

South Africa’s state prosecuting authority urged the presidency to help resolve an impasse with the United Arab Emirates over what it described as the Gulf nation’s lack of “willingness” to help extradite Atul and Rajesh Gupta, who are wanted on charges of money laundering and fraud.

Deputy President Paul Mashatile and Justice Minister Ronald Lamola traveled to the UAE this week to secure its cooperation in the matter, National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi said in a televised briefing on Wednesday. The case has dragged on for years and dented public confidence in the authority’s ability to prosecute individuals allegedly involved in state corruption.The Gupta brothers were arrested in the UAE in June 2022 after Interpol placed them on its most-wanted list. A judicial inquiry into government graft spanning more than three years detailed close links between the brothers and former South African President Jacob Zuma. Witnesses alleged they worked together to siphon money from South Africa’s state transport, power and arms companies, and decided who was appointed to the cabinet. Zuma and the Guptas have denied wrongdoing.Last year, a UAE court denied South Africa’s plea to extradite the Guptas and their arrest warrant was canceled.

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The decision to involve President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office was taken after Batohi’s request to meet with her UAE counterpart on the issue was snubbed, she said.

“We realized that unless there isn’t that strong political push in the UAE, we’re going to struggle with this matter,” Batohi said. “I am not sure there is any willingness to really assist South Africa in this matter at a technical level and I am not sure at a political level because mutual legal assistance ultimately, although it is a technical process, depends on political will.”

The UAE’s Foreign Ministry didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

The rare media briefing by Batohi and the renewed drive to bring the Guptas back to South Africa coincides with the ruling African National Congress preparing next month to face its toughest election since 1994. Opinion polls suggest the party may lose its majority for the first time because of voter dissatisfaction of issues including rampant crime and corruption.

Ramaphosa has made little progress since coming to office six years ago in rooting out graft in the ANC and the state, after repeatedly pledging to do so. He’s estimated that at least $32 billion may have been stolen from state coffers during Zuma’s tenure.

Fighting corruption and prosecuting complex financial crimes is also key to getting South Africa removed from the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force’s global dirty-money watchlist.

Batohi wants the delegation to return with a “commitment at the highest level that the UAE will support South Africa” in its request for both the extradition of the brothers and sought after evidence related to their alleged wrongdoing, she said.

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