The infamous Gupta brothers, who were arrested in Dubai last month, have moved a step closer to being sent to South Africa and stand trial on charges of money laundering and fraud.
South Africa said it has placed a formal request with UAE authorities to extradite Rajesh and Atul Gupta.
“We can confirm that the extradition request has been duly submitted to the UAE central authority,” said Ronald Lamola, South Africa’s justice minister.
He was addressing a press conference on Monday.
Lamola said the request has been made in accordance with the treaty between UAE and South Africa as well as the United Nations Conventions against Corruption (UNCAC), the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument.
The Indian-born siblings are accused of using their ties 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.
Court documents show they acted as fixers for multinational companies which paid them kickbacks in return for government businesses.
As the net closed on them and Jacob Zuma resigned as president, Ajay and Rajesh 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.
In June this year, the duo’s free run finally came to an end when they were arrested in Dubai following a red notice by Interpol.
South Africa’s National Director of Public Prosecutions (NPA) Shamila Batohi said the fugitive businessmen were placed on the agency’s most wanted list in February 2022.
She said a multi-disciplinary team within the NPA led the legal aspect of the process and worked in a focused and well-coordinated manner with the Office of the Director General of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, designated as the Central Authority (CA) for extradition processes to prepare and finalise the application.
"This work included consultation with legal counsel and some team members meeting with their counterparts in the UAE early this month, to ensure that the request for extradition met all the requirements of the bilateral treaty, that it was in accordance with UAE domestic laws, and to build trust with relevant law enforcement partners," NPA said.
The agency said the submission of the application request for the arrest and extradition of the Gupta brothers was "an important milestone in the NPA's commitment to hold accountable perpetrators of state capture and uphold the rule of law".
The formal application for extradition was submitted on Monday, well within the 60-day deadline of August 2, said Batohi.
She said the process of getting the suspects back to South Africa could take several months to conclude.
Extradition matters in the UAE are heard by a special tribunal. Their decision can be appealed before the Court of Cassation.
Originally from Saharanpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the Guptas 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.
However, they soon broke into the uppermost echelons of political power and became one of the country’s richest family with business interests in IT, media, mining among other things.
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