Johannesburg – As former president Jacob Zuma faces jail time, his close family friends – the Guptas – are panicking and allegedly planning to flee from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in an attempt to avoid possible arrests in South Africa.
They are, however, unable to flee Dubai as South Africa refuses to renew their passports. Sunday World can today reveal that the family, which is stateless and stranded in the UAE, has been trying without success to force the South African government to issue its newborns with birth certificates and renew the passports of other family members.
The South African authorities believe that the family wants to flee the UAE to a country that is not a signatory to international extradition treaties.
This after the South African government and the UAE entered into an extradition agreement last month, which could see the Guptas brought back to face the law after running away in 2018. A high-ranking government official told Sunday World that the net was closing in on the Guptas.
“They have new kids. We are sitting with requests for birth certificates and passports. They can’t be registered. The kids are stateless. They are in limbo, they can’t go anywhere,” the source said.
“They know that if they get South African passports, they can travel to a country that is prepared to violate international law,” the source added.
The Investigative Directorate (ID) last month issued warrants of arrest for Atul and Rajesh and their wives – Chetali and Arti – and business associate Salim Essa. South African authorities have also asked the International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol) to help arrest and deport members of the family.
In what appears to be the final throw of the dice, Atul has now filed papers in the Pretoria High Court seeking an order setting aside the department’s decision to not grant him a passport.
Atul was naturalised in October 2002. Home Affairs and the National Prosecuting Authority’s ID have argued in their answering affidavits that the Gupta family members cannot be issued with South African passports as they are fugitives from the law.
The department’s director-general, Livhuwani Makhode, said Atul had no standing to approach a South African court.
“I am advised and respectfully submit that our courts have held for nearly a century that a fugitive from justice has no standing to approach a South African court. By definition, fugitives from justice refuse to submit to our laws and our courts, and they avoid the processes of the law through a flight out of the country,” he said.
Makhode noted that Atul had fled to the UAE because of his alleged involvement in state capture, adding the businessman was unwilling to voluntarily return to South Africa to face justice, where he knew he would be subjected to investigation, arrest and prosecution.
The Guptas did not want to subject themselves to the Zondo commission into state capture, dealing with allegations of the wide-scale hollowing out of state-owned entities.
They are said to have siphoned off billions of rand to the UAE.
The commission’s chairperson, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, said this week that they did not have time to hear the Guptas’ evidence should they be extradited.
In April, the British government imposed travel and financial sanctions on the three Gupta brothers – Atul, Ajay and Rajesh – and their associate Essa “to stop corrupt individuals using the UK as a safe haven for dirty money”.
In March, residences and offices of the Gupta family in the remote town of Saharanpur in the northern state of Utt ar Pradesh were raided by Indian tax authorities.
Makhode said Atul could not credibly deny that he was a fugitive from the South African justice system.
“If Mr Gupta denies that he is a fugitive from justice, then I invite him to state on oath when he will return to South Africa. Will he do so in this case if the court were to order that he be cross-examined,” he said.
“Mr Gupta’s implication in state capture, fraud, and corruption is notorious. So too was the fact that Mr Gupta had fled to Dubai, and the efforts by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and the National Prosecuting Authority to ensure his return to South Africa,” Makhode added.
The UK launched the Global Anti-Corruption Sanctions regime on April 26, which targeted Ajay, Atul, Rajesh and Essa – who were all sanctioned as part of this regime.
The UK Foreign Office this week told Sunday World that the sanctions against the Guptas and Essa reaffirmed the UK’s unwavering commitment to helping South African authorities fight against corruption.
“These designations support efforts to hold those responsible for corruption to account. Investigations into allegations of state capture and corruption in South Africa are ongoing, and prosecution of individuals for their involvement in corruption is a matter for the South African authorities,” the Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Office (FCDO) said.
Asked why Gupta associate and business partner Duduzane Zuma was not part of those sanctioned, the UK authorities said: “The FCDO will keep our sanctions regulations under constant review in order to deter and provide accountability for serious corruption around the world.”
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