Two members of the Gupta family have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, the biggest step yet in South Africa’s struggle to hold to account the ringleaders accused of orchestrating the looting of its state-owned companies.
Rajesh and Atul Gupta have been detained by UAE law enforcement authorities and talks are underway about the way forward, South Africa’s Justice Ministry said in a statement on Monday.
An inquest into state violations spanning more than three years charted the close ties between the brothers and former President Jacob Zuma, with numerous witnesses claiming to have worked hand in hand to funnel money from state transportation, energy and weapons 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.
Brothers Gupta and Zuma have always denied the allegations.
The arrests come a year after the UAE ratified an extradition treaty with South Africa. The administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa first asked Emirati authorities to extradite members of the Gupta family in 2018, and the US imposed restrictions ranging from visa bans to asset freezes the following year. The UK followed suit last year and Interpol placed the two brothers on its most wanted list in February.
Corruption scandals in which the Guptas and people associated with them are accused of damaging state energy company Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and the rail and port company Transnet SOC Ltd. McKinsey & Co. has repaid money to both companies after working on contracts with Gupta. linked companies. The US-based consultancy has denied any intentional wrongdoing.
South African authorities charged the Guptas in 2018 over a questionable tender to conduct a feasibility study on a dairy project in the central Free State province, in which a company they controlled received 21 million rand.
In December 2015, the Guptas were accused of playing a role in Zuma firing then Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene and replacing him with unknown lawmaker Des Van Rooyen, a move that crashed the fringe. Van Rooyen was removed four days later and replaced by Pravin Gordhan, who had previously served on the post, following protests from business, the public and members of the ruling African National Congress.
Ramaphosa will not comment on the arrests, his spokesman Vincent Magwenya said by text message.
“We have always said that fighting corruption in SA requires resilience, that if the rule of law takes its course, those involved will eventually get their day in court,” said Stefanie Fick, executive head of responsibility for the non-profit. Organization Undo Tax Abuse. “Looks like that day is just around the corner for the Gupta kingpins.”