Lamola labels questions over failed Gupta extradition ‘sheer political scoring’
More than two months after news of the failed Gupta extradition broke, MPs debated the ‘urgent’ issue in Parliament.
Members of Parliament on Tuesday debated the failed extradition of Gupta brothers Atul and Rajesh from the United Arab Emirates, more than two months after South African authorities were notified of this development.
The debate was sponsored by Good MP Brett Herron, who had submitted a request to National Assembly Speaker Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula for an urgent debate on the matter four days after the news was delivered to South African authorities in a note verbale.
Tuesday’s debate was essentially a repeat of the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s budget vote debate two weeks ago. Cheap politics was the order of the day, and the opposition focused on the ruling party’s ineptitude in bringing the Guptas to book.
As FF Plus MP Wouter Wessels put it: “A court case in South Africa involving the Guptas would certainly have opened a can of worms of corruption, in which many high-ranking ANC officials would surely have been implicated.
“It is quite possible that the failed application has more to do with deliberate incompetence than true incompetence, although it does always play a role under ANC rule.”
South Africa’s request to extradite the fugitive brothers from the UAE was quietly turned down following the conclusion of a hearing in Dubai on 13 February. South African authorities were only notified of the court’s decision in early April when they received the note verbale.
News of the failed extradition came roughly 10 months after the Gupta brothers were said to have been arrested in Dubai. But South African authorities were never even provided with their mugshots as confirmation of their incarceration.
Were they even in custody?
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) have consistently said that South African authorities handling the Gupta extradition matter complied with every requirement as per the extradition treaty between South Africa and the UAE.
On Tuesday, Lamola stayed on message, and ANC MPs fell in line. There were no “foolish administrative nor legal mistakes from the South African government. Neither did we bungle this extradition request,” he told MPs.
ANC MPs talked about the complexities of extradition matters, concluding that all those who have fled the country will, eventually, be brought back to face justice.
However, Herron said: “We’ve listened to thousands of words from the minister of justice and his department seeking to assure South Africa that they did their best, and seeking to diplomatically place the blame for the failure of their extradition application on the UAE.
“Besides details of the state-to-state engagement — or non-engagement — behind the scenes, we know very little,” he continued.
Given the failure, Herron said, there are “questions about whether we consulted the right people in the UAE, with the necessary expertise and knowledge of the UAE system of justice”.
ANC MP Xola Nqola labelled Herron’s assumption of failure as “premature”.
Joint task team
Last week, Lamola met with his counterpart from the UAE, Abdullah Sultan bin Awad Al Nuaimi, in Abu Dhabi to strengthen “the partnership in mutual legal assistance and extradition matters between the two countries”. In the bilateral meeting, an agreement was reached to deal with the issues by establishing a joint task team of prosecutors from both countries. A technical joint task team will meet on Thursday “to go through the requests for extradition afresh”.
IFP MP Mkhuleko Hlengwa said he “sincerely” hoped that this was not “another one of the government’s kick-for-touch tactics”.
“The fact that the government is only now starting with this process is, in itself, unacceptable because it begs the question of why it has taken so long.”
While the Gupta brothers have acquired Vanuatu passports in the years since fleeing South Africa, their precise whereabouts remain unknown. If they were incarcerated in the UAE, it is unclear whether they were released on 13 February, the day of the hearing, or how soon thereafter.
Lamola has previously said that while it is unclear whether the brothers are still in the UAE, it is the last place they were reportedly seen. Because of that, the department would treat the issue as if the brothers were still in the UAE.
But DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach put it bluntly: “It’s no good, Mr Minister, galavanting in Abu Dhabi, unless we actually know that they’re there.”
Lamola shrugged off this and other comments from opposition MPs as “sheer political scoring”. DM