South Africa on Monday said the United Arab Emirates had arrested Rajesh Gupta and Atul Gupta, brothers who face charges of political corruption under former South African president Jacob Zuma.
The two countries ratified an extradition treaty in April 2021, but it was not immediately clear whether the arrests would lead to the brothers’ return to South Africa.
“Discussions between various law enforcement agencies in the UAE and South Africa on the way forward are ongoing,” South Africa’s ministry of justice and correctional services said in a brief statement, adding that it will continue to cooperate with the UAE.
The brothers are accused of using connections with Zuma, who was in office from 2009 to 2018, to win contracts, misappropriate state assets, influence cabinet appointments and siphon state funds. Zuma and the Guptas deny any wrongdoing.
The Indian-born brothers left South Africa after Zuma resigned in 2018. An inquiry was established in 2018 to examine allegations of graft during Zuma’s years in power.
The UAE’s ratification of the extradition treaty with South Africa was a move that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government hoped would lead to the return of the Guptas to face charges.
South Africa’s largest opposition party welcomed the arrests.
“We hope that this is indeed the beginning of arrests and prosecution of those who have – locally and abroad – looted our country for years and are directly responsible for the hardships that millions of South Africans face today,” the Democratic Alliance said in a statement.
The Guptas came to South Africa in 1993 to build a sprawling business empire in mining, computer technology and media.
They had been granted South African citizenship but fled the country shortly after a judicial commission probing corruption started in 2018.
After four years of investigations, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo compiled a report, revealing how the wealthy brothers became enmeshed in the highest levels of government and the ruling African National Congress (ANC).
In a series of reports published this year, the investigators said procurement contracts at the proprietor of all rail, ports and pipelines amounted to “planned offences of racketeering activity conducted by a racketeering enterprise” linked to the Guptas.
The investigators also concluded that Zuma “would do anything that the Guptas wanted him to do for them”.
The corruption scandals engulfing Zuma led to his downfall. He was jailed last year for 15 months for refusing to testify before the investigators. He was released on parole, having served just two months of the term.
In July last year, Interpol said the Gupta brothers were being sought for fraud and money laundering in connection with a 25-million rand (€1.5 million) contract paid to a Gupta-linked company, Nulane Investment, to conduct an agricultural feasibility study.
Paul Holden, an investigator who runs an NGO alongside a former ANC MP, estimated that the cost of the Guptas’ alleged illicit activities in South Africa could be as much as 50 billion rand (€3 billion).