AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY
SA-UAE treaty does not mean Guptas will be on the next plane home from Dubai
Despite the eventual conclusion of an extradition treaty, the process is likely to be drawn out, say Justice Minister and NPA head.
Don’t hold your breath. The Guptas will not be coming back from Dubai on the next plane to face justice at home — despite the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and South Africa having now finally ratified an extradition treaty. If they return at all, that is.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola announced on Friday that the extradition treaty would enter into force on 10 July. However, he and National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi have both cautioned South Africans not to get too excited about the finalisation of the extradition treaty and an important mutual legal assistance agreement which has also just been ratified.
Both complained at a press conference on Friday about the UAE’s failure to cooperate with Pretoria over the last three years in bringing the Guptas and their associates to justice. Lamola said, however, that he hoped that “the ratification of the two treaties symbolises a change of course and cooperation, a change of heart and that a new dawn has begun”.
Lamola said that when he and Batohi exchanged the ratification instruments for the two agreements with UAE ambassador to South Africa, Mahash Alhameli, on Thursday, Alhameli had “committed to engage with his country and counterparts to cooperate with all our requests and to respond to all the requests we have sent to the UAE”.
Batohi also hoped that this signalled a new attitude by the UAE. Yet she also expressed scepticism that the ratification of the treaties would really make a difference. She noted that the UAE government could have cooperated with Pretoria over the last three years without a mutual legal agreement if it had really wanted to.
She said the SA government had been requesting financial evidence from the UAE, such as bank accounts and statements.
“And so as I expressed to the ambassador yesterday we will only accept that there is full cooperation when we receive the necessary information that we have been requesting now for over three years without success.”
So Batohi said the next step in the process should be for the UAE to hand over this evidence — “hopefully..very soon”.
But extradition would be a long and uncertain process, she cautioned.
Recent announcements that it would ask Interpol to issue a Red Notice for Gupta brothers Atul and Rajesh, their wives, Chetali and Arti, and business associates, Batohi said this meant that Interpol would help South Africa to trace the “outstanding suspects” and then to work with the local authorities where the suspects were to arrest them.
Once they had been arrested, there would be legal processes to determine if they could be extradited.
“And then at the end of those legal processes it becomes a political issue in that the executive then decides whether to surrender the person to the requesting country or not. And that very much depends on political will.
“And so if there was any thought that those who we are seeking to face justice in South Africa would be on the next plane to South Africa, be clear that is a process that will certainly take some time after the arrests of outstanding suspects wherever they might be in the world,” Batohi said.
Lamola agreed that “We really can’t put timelines” on the process. “Sometimes extraditions by their nature become protracted legal processes.” Once the legal processes had been concluded, “the executive will have to make a decision whether to extradite or not in terms of their laws. Whether they are extraditable.”
The two Gupta brothers and their wives are among the accused in a court case in connection with a R24-million contract from the Free State government. Longtime associate Iqbal Sharma and three former government officials appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court earlier this month. An official indictment released by the National Prosecuting Authority details charges ranging from contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, to fraud and/or money laundering.
Assets belonging to both Sharma and the Guptas have been attached pending the outcome of the criminal case. DM
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