JUSTICE, WHAT JUSTICE
The Guptas are gone. No one is to blame, everyone did their best. The end
The UAE rejected South Africa's bid to extradite Atul and Rajesh Gupta as far back as February this year but authorities literally only discovered this at 8pm on Thursday, April 6. This was roughly six weeks after a ruling was handed down in the Emirates – and then, SA officials were only handed a summary of a court judgment in Arabic that required urgent translation overnight before local officials could decipher precisely what had transpired.
The Gupta brothers are free of South Africa. They may be in Switzerland, in Vanuatu or the Central African Republic if recent unattributed media reports are to be believed.
The South African government does not know and has now confirmed that its mission to extradite Atul and Rajesh Gupta from the United Arab Emirates has bombed.
The country’s request to extradite the brothers from the UAE was quietly turned down following the conclusion of a hearing in Dubai on 13 February 2023.
The Department of Justice and the National Prosecuting Authority were clueless about this development until 8pm on Thursday, April 6 2023, when it finally received a diplomatic note from the UAE embassy in South Africa.
Lamola reveals this morning – on Good Friday – that South Africa’s #Gupta extradition request was rejected by UAE back in February already, SA was unaware until yesterday
— janet heard (@janetheard) April 7, 2023
And this was only due to an exhaustive recent series of engagements – triggered partly by fresh media reports of sightings of the Guptas in Switzerland and alleged applications for asylum by them to the Central African Republic and Cameroon.
This shocking development comes roughly 10 months after the Gupta brothers were said to have been arrested on Interpol Red Notices in Dubai.
And, it raises extremely worrying questions about South Africa’s prospects of ever bringing the Guptas – State Capture’s prime suspects – to book in SA.
On February 24 2023 Daily Maverick asked the department of justice a series of 15 questions relating to the Gupta arrest in Dubai.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Ten months and counting – no sign of a Gupta and no word from justice department
Those included questions around the circumstances of their arrest, whether any representative of the SA government had physically seen the Guptas in custody or if SA authorities were provided with mugshots of the brothers as confirmation of their incarceration.
The DoJ never answered those questions, but officials were clearly frantically searching for answers.
As it now turns out, by the time the Department received Daily Maverick’s questions, the court in Dubai had already concluded the extradition hearing and possibly even rejected SA’s extradition request.
It is unclear whether the brothers were released on February 13, the day of the hearing or how soon thereafter.
But it would take another six weeks before South Africa would officially receive word about what had transpired behind closed doors (extradition hearings in the UAE are not open to the public).
Effectively the request was turned down because the Guptas could be prosecuted in the UAE on the money laundering charge for which SA had sought their extradition for.
Currently under international financial sanctions, the Guptas are wanted by South Africa in connection with fraud and money laundering charges flowing from a Free State provincial government contract commonly known as the Estina dairy scandal.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Vrede Dairy project defence advocates tear into the state’s corruption case
Addressing the media via a virtual press conference on Good Friday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, announced the UAE’s decision with “shock” and “dismay” and said any prospect of an appeal remains in the hands of that country’s justice department.
Media Statement | Update on the Gupta Extradition pic.twitter.com/BoYJYpoYKd
— Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services 🇿🇦 (@Min_JCS) April 7, 2023
There was no immediate clarity on what impact the Guptas’ suspected departure from the UAE may have on an appeal process.
Furthermore, Interpol Red Notices that led to the arrest of the two brothers are also no longer valid so South Africa would have to seek fresh ones should they want to clip their wings abroad – again.
Lamola said two reasons were given for the Dubai court’s decision: the first was that the money laundering charge for which SA sought their extradition was also an offence in that country and that they could therefore be prosecuted in the UAE.
The second related to the validity of an arrest warrant submitted as part of SA’s extradition request.
Shamila Batohi, the national director of public prosecutions, told the media that South Africa’s paperwork for the extradition application had ticked all the right boxes and that there was nothing more authorities could have done.
She said the UAE court’s issue with the Gupta arrest warrant was not necessarily valid as SA had merely cancelled one to replace it with another that contained all the relevant charges.
Asked about SA’s chances now of ever bringing the Guptas to book, Batohi quipped:
“Well, how long is a piece of string?”
Read more in Daily Maverick from our 2022 archives: The questions South African authorities should be able to answer about the Guptas
She said extradition is a complex process and that people set on making sure they don’t get extradited would fight such efforts with all their might.
Also attending the briefing was justice department director general, Doc Mashabane, who said SA only discovered that the Guptas had acquired citizenship of Vanuatu, a small island in the south Pacific, upon getting the diplomatic communication from the UAE embassy on Thursday evening. South Africa would now have to examine all its options in terms of legal instruments applicable to this country.
He said SA had no immediate information about the accuracy of media reports relating to the Gupta travels to Switzerland or asylum applications to Cameroon and the CAR.
“We don’t have information ourselves,” he said.
“It does appear clearly that they proceeded with the court case without informing us through the diplomatic channels, which would have been through our embassy.”
The SA embassy in Abu Dhabi, Mashabane said, had received no information about this hearing. DM