JOHANNESBURG – South Africa said Friday it has finalized an extradition treaty with United Arab Emirates that would allow it to bring back members of an Indian family accused of involvement in high-level state corruption to face trial.
Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta are believed to be living in Dubai after hastily leaving South Africa around the same time former President Jacob Zuma resigned in 2018 amid allegations he had overseen massive levels of corruption at state-owned companies.
The Guptas are accused of using their association with Zuma to cash in on huge government contracts and kickbacks, and were believed to be so influential they had a say in Zuma's appointment of Cabinet ministers.
The U.S. Treasury Department placed the three Gupta brothers on a sanctions list in 2019, accusing them of being “members of a significant corruption network.” That forbids U.S entities from conducting business with them or handling their assets.
Zuma was president from 2009 until he was forced to step down by his African National Congress Party amid the graft scandal. He is currently on trial for corruption related to another huge government contract before he was president, while his allegedly corrupt relationship with the Guptas is being investigated in an ongoing commission of inquiry in South Africa.
Witnesses at the inquiry have testified how the Guptas' Johannesburg mansion became a meeting place for senior government ministers and bosses of state-owned companies during the Zuma years, and those officials sometimes left with bags of money.
South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said Friday the process of extraditing the Guptas could become a lengthy legal battle.
“We should not expect that the people of interest will board a plane to South Africa first thing tomorrow morning,” he said.
The extradition treaty will come into effect on July 10, Lamola said.
South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority has approached Interpol to assist in the execution of arrest warrants for the Guptas.