Is Salim Essa the next sucker-punch loading for SA prosecutors?
In the wake of South Africa’s failed bid to extradite the Guptas, Essa ought to be the next-best mission, but he gets to rebrand himself at home.
South Africa has spent more than R1-billion on a commission of inquiry into allegations of fraud and corruption in the public sector and the role of the Gupta enterprise.
Bringing those responsible to book is often stated as a mission of national importance.
In the wake of the arrest of Atul and Rajesh Gupta in Dubai in 2022, even Cabinet seemed pleased.
A statement released at the time read: “Cabinet also welcomed progress being made on the extradition of the Gupta brothers, Rajesh and Atul, back to SA. This follows their recent arrest at Dubai in the UAE.”
“Their arrest demonstrates government’s determination to fight crime and corruption without fear or favour.”
While he is a wanted man for the National Prosecuting Authority or the Department of Justice, it would appear the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, for instance, tends to mind its own business.
Optimistically, this suggests that every government department backs the quest for justice and to bring all those responsible to book.
How then is it that Salim Essa – a man wanted by law enforcement and the subject of highly critical testimony at the State Capture Commission – could so easily have walked in and out of the South African consulate in Dubai?
Essa was there to attest to an affidavit he needed to file for his high court bid to overturn the State Capture Report in South Africa.
This is not a consulate in Mali or Suva in Fiji. It’s Dubai, the place where fugitive Gupta brothers had just weeks earlier been arrested for possible extradition.
Essa (or the man purporting to be him) seemed unperturbed by the hype of a Gupta arrest.
This is perhaps not surprising. For while he is a wanted man for the National Prosecuting Authority or the Department of Justice, it would appear the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (Dirco), for instance, tends to mind its own business.
In early April, Daily Maverick resent a set of questions it had earlier asked Dirco about Essa’s visit to the consulate in July 2022.
It included how consulate staff verified the identity of the man who presented as Salim Essa and whether Dirco had camera footage of the visit.
Like the Guptas, sightings of Essa in recent years have been rare and it might actually be useful to know what he looks like in case he too gets a Vanuatu passport.
Weeks after Dirco undertook to revert, those questions remain unanswered.
In the wake of South Africa’s failed bid to extradite the Guptas, Essa ought to be the next-best mission, one that requires tactical precision on all fronts, but it’s hard to tell whether authorities have a firm grip on this one.
In August 2022, the ID issued a brief statement saying it intended to have Essa extradited. Nine months later there is no talk of an Interpol Red Notice for Essa and neither is there any formal indication that South Africa has done anything to trigger an extradition request.
In the meantime, Essa – the subject of international sanctions imposed by the US Treasury and the UK – gets to rebrand himself at home.
To say this is worrying is an understatement. Essa is a vital cog in the State Capture scandal. By his own tally, he is named more than 800 times in the final State Capture Report.
Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘I’m no fugitive — I emigrated to Dubai,’ says Gupta Inc’s Salim Essa
And he features centrally across many of the big-money cases involving Regiments Capital, its offshoot, Trillian Capital Partners, the Transnet Second Defined Benefit Fund (TSDBF) case, the Gupta acquisition of Optimum Coal as well as Transnet’s purchase of 1,064 locomotives.
In the early days of the Guptaleaks in 2017/18 there were rumours that Essa might be looking to strike a deal with the authorities. Nothing came of that then.
Fast forward nearly six years and Essa remains a free man. Like then, he continues to watch from afar as arrests take place in South Africa and court cases, for now, go nowhere fast.
He can almost be forgiven for his efforts to recast himself as just another immigrant in Dubai. DM