South Africa pledges to bring alleged looting linchpins to book

South Africa’s justice minister insists members of the Gupta family, who have been implicated in looting billions of rand from state coffers, will be extradited from Dubai and be forced to explain their actions.

“There is no other way, they have to come back and account,” Ronald Lamola said in an interview last week. “We will follow all the protocols and we will do whatever it takes to get them back here.”

Businessmen Atul, Rajesh and Ajay Gupta built up a business empire with interests ranging from mining to media in South Africa, while forging close relationships with top politicians, including former President Jacob Zuma.

A judicial panel that’s spent almost four years investigating graft during Zuma’s rule found the brothers exploited those relationships to have allies appointed to key posts in state companies and secure illicit contracts. They all deny wrongdoing.

The Guptas fled to Dubai shortly before South Africa’s ruling African National Congress forced Zuma to step down in early 2018 to stem a loss of electoral support. Last year, the United Arab Emirates ratified an extradition treaty with South Africa, and this year Interpol issued so-called red notices for Atul and Rajesh Gupta, which should smooth the path for their repatriation.

Prior to the signing of the treaty with the UAE “we were concerned and frustrated and we didn’t feel that they were cooperative,” Lamola said. “But since the signing, the ball is now in our court to bring the extradition request, which the authorities are now following up on,” and the government is confident that the Emirati authorities will honor their obligations, he said.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who succeeded Zuma, has estimated that more than R500 billion ($33.2 billion) was plundered during his predecessor’s almost nine-year tenure and said that tackling graft is a top priority. Even so, not a single senior official has been successfully prosecuted in connection with the theft — in part due to a lack of prosecuting expertise and capacity.

Those shortcomings are now being addressed, with the National Prosecuting Authority having been allocated additional funds that is enabling it to hire additional staff with the requisite skills needed to prosecute complex crimes and recoup stolen funds, Lamola said.

“Appointments are happening every day and we do believe that we have reached a turning point in rebuilding of the NPA,” he said.

Consideration is also being given to merging the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal, the nation’s top two legal tribunals, which could prevent cases from being strung out for years.

“I would favor such a move but the process would have to undergo seriously rigorous policy discussions,” in conjunction with the heads of the courts, Lamola said.
Other highlights from the interview:

  • The ANC has begun discussing whether to rescind its earlier decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
  • Unemployment remains South Africa’s biggest challenge, which the government will have to address in conjunction with the private sector.
  • The government is redistributing land to address racially skewed ownership patterns stemming from apartheid and colonial rule. It also wants private owners to donate land that can be used for housing.

Read: Discovery to offer ultra low-cost health cover in South Africa

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South Africa pledges to bring alleged looting linchpins to book