From selling shoes out of their car to being fugitives: Staggering rise and stunning fall of Gupta brothers

Indian-born siblings arrested in Dubai in connection with money laundering, criminal charges



Rajesh and Atul Gupta. Photo: Twitter/@EoAmlctf
Rajesh and Atul Gupta. Photo: Twitter/@EoAmlctf
by

Mazhar Farooqui

Published: Wed 8 Jun 2022, 7:15 AM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jun 2022, 12:14 PM

From selling shoes out of their car to running a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, the rise of the Gupta brothers – Rajesh and Atul - has been as incredible as their fall.

The Indian-born siblings were arrested in Dubai in connection with money laundering and criminal charges. Dubai Police on Tuesday said they could soon be extradited to South Africa where they are among the most “wanted suspects”.

Ironically, South Africa is where the duo once called the shots, allegedly using their connections with former South African president Jacob Zuma to win mega contracts, misappropriate state assets, influence cabinet decisions, and siphon off government funds worth millions of dollars.

So how did the Gupta brothers — rank outsiders hailing from the sleepy town of Saharanpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh — reach South Africa, break into the uppermost echelons of political power and become almost magically, the country’s richest family?

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 16, 2012 Atul Gupta attendeds the 53rd national conference of the African National Congress in Bloemfontein. Photo: AFP
(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 16, 2012 Atul Gupta attendeds the 53rd national conference of the African National Congress in Bloemfontein. Photo: AFP

There are different versions of the story. But what remains undisputable is that the Gupta brothers landed in South Africa in 1993 before the end of the apartheid and started off humbly by selling shoes from the back of their car.

The following year they launched a company called Sahara Computers Private Limited, allegedly slapping together grey-market computers from undervalued imported parts, and selling them under the logo Sahara, which was also an intimation of the brand of an Indian company.

As their profits soared, the Guptas worked their way into elite political circles of the ruling African National Congress (ANC). Here they found willing partners at all levels. But their biggest catch was president Jacob Zuma himself.

The Guptas made one of Zuma’s sons a business partner, enabling them to purchase a coal mine, according to South African authorities. Zuma’s third wife and one of his daughters have also been on the rolls of the Guptas.

The next nine odd years of Zuma’s presidency until 2018 were meteoric for the Guptas.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 27, 2010 Atul Gupta looks on outside the Randburg magistrate court, near Johannesburg. Photo: AFP
(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 27, 2010 Atul Gupta looks on outside the Randburg magistrate court, near Johannesburg. Photo: AFP

Before long, their business network expanded from computers and mining to air travel, energy technology and media. The Guptas recruited several other senior ANC members by giving them cuts on lucrative contracts from the state’s utility and rail companies, according to South African government investigators.

Court documents show they acted as fixers for multinational companies which paid them kickbacks in return for government businesses.

As the line between the business empire of the Guptas and President Zuma’s office began to blur, a joined term was coined for them – Zuptas.

The Gupta brothers were accused of influencing political decisions and of ‘state capture’ -- an academic term to describe a form of corruption in which businesses and politicians conspire to influence a country’s decision-making process to advance their own interests.

In 2016, South African deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas alleged that a member of the family had offered to promote him to the minister’s post in return for state favours.

More trouble followed for the Guptas in 2017 when about 100,000 emails were leaked establishing how deeply they influenced the Zuma government. The revelations led to massive protests against Zuma and the Guptas, who had earlier hurt South African sentiments by landing a plane carrying wedding guests at a military airbase reserved only for the head of state.

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As the net closed on them and Zuma resigned as president, the Gupta brothers fled to Dubai in 2018. But the clock started ticking on them when an extradition treaty between South Africa and UAE was ratified in 2021 and South Africa began the process of requesting their extradition.

On Monday, their free run finally came to an end. Zuma, 80, was jailed last year for 15 months for refusing to testify before the investigators.

In July last year, Interpol said the Gupta brothers were being sought for fraud and money laundering in connection with a 25-million rand (Dh6.89 million) contract paid to a Gupta-linked company.

Paul Holden, an investigator who runs an NGO alongside a former ANC MP, reckons that the cost of the Guptas’ alleged illicit activities in South Africa could be as much as 50 billion rand (Dh13.79 billion).


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