Rajesh and Atul Gupta, wanted in South Africa for their alleged involvement in a massive corruption scheme, are awaiting extradition after being arrested in the United Arab Emirates where they are believed to have sought refuge since 2018.
The Guptas are deeply implicated in corruption allegations during the tenure of former South African president Jacob Zuma. The brothers and their families left South Africa for the UAE when Zuma resigned in 2018.
Dubai police confirmed on Tuesday that they arrested the pair on June 2, calling them “among South Africa’s most wanted suspects.”
Both Zuma and the Guptas, through their lawyer, have repeatedly denied the allegations.
Interpol, now headed up by UAE police chief General Ahmed Naser al-Raisi following his election last year, had issued a red notice for the Guptas relating to fraud and money laundering charges earlier this year.
Extradition is a complex process, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority told CNN on Tuesday, but officials are engaging with relevant authorities in South Africa and the UAE.
Dubai Police said in a press release that they are coordinating with authorities in South Africa for “the extradition file to complete the legal procedures.”
South Africa ratified extradition treaties with the UAE in June last year, according to the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services.
The Guptas and their associates are also sanctioned by the US Treasury Department as a significant corruption network, and for leveraging their “political connections to engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.”
South Africans have heard details of some of the allegations during months of testimony in a graft inquiry known as the “Zondo Commission.”
Details of alleged corruption were first revealed in November 2016, when a 355-page “State of Capture” report was published by South Africa’s Public Protector.
It contains allegations, and in some instances evidence, of cronyism, questionable business deals and ministerial appointments, and other possible large-scale corruption at the very top of government.
UAE cracking down on financial corruption
The arrest of the Guptas is the second high-profile arrest related to alleged financial corruption within a week by the UAE, after the apprehension of 52-year-old hedge fund trader Sanjay Shah on Friday, who is wanted on fraud and money laundering charges in Denmark. Shah maintains his innocence.
With an open business environment, availability of global banks and an international transport hub, the UAE’s emirates, especially Dubai, have often attracted rich investors looking to expand their wealth.
However, illicit actors have also often found it easy to launder money through the country’s economic sectors, the US State Department said in a report on global money laundering.
The report, released in March, highlighted gaps in UAE’s regulatory oversight allowing laundering through banks, numerous exchange houses and general trading companies.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental watchdog said in March that the UAE will be added to the list of countries subject to increased monitoring for strategic deficiencies in countering money laundering and terrorist financing.
In response, the UAE said it would move to “accelerate the pace” of a national action plan to combat the deficiencies and will work with the FATF to tackle financial crime.
“This file constitutes a strategic priority for the country,” the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said in March.