Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their spouses have objected to South Africa’s application for Interpol red alerts for their arrest and stalled the process, claiming it was politically motivated, a well-placed source said on Wednesday.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has however managed to have red notices issued against four business associates of the Gupta brothers, who are also wanted by South African authorities to stand trial for fraud and money-laundering.
They are Ankit Jain, the former signatory for Nulane Investment’s Bank of Baroda account, Ravindra Nath, the director of Wone Management, Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh, the directors of Pragat Investments.
The four, who are believed to be in India, have been implicated along with the Gupta brothers and their wives, Arthi and Chetali, in the Free State fraud and money-laundering case related to a R24-million tender for a feasibility study that paved the way for the Vrede dairy project.
The provincial agriculture department paid the money to Nulane Investment, owned by former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma, ostensibly to conduct a feasibility study for the flagship project, but instead it was shifted to the Gupta family’s Islandsite Investments.
Sharma is the first Gupta associate charged with fraud and money-laundering and was on Wednesday granted bail in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court. The NPA had opposed bail, arguing that he was a flight risk because of his considerable assets abroad.
The Investigating Directorate (ID) of the NPA this week issued a statement to clarify an earlier missive that suggested Interpol had acceded to its request to issue red alerts for all eight co-suspects in the case.
A red notice is a formal request to fellow Interpol members to apprehend and provisionally arrest a suspect pending an extradition process. Though it is not an arrest warrant, and Interpol cannot compel a country to arrest someone against whom such a notice has been issued, it does have the effect of curtailing the movement of those sought.
“While it is correct that red notices have been issued for circulation among law enforcement entities of Interpol member states in respect of four of the eight accused before the Bloemfontein regional court, red notices for the four Gupta family members are still under consideration by the Commission for the Control of Interpol’s Files (CCF),” the ID said.
The CCF is an independent legal entity that has to ensure that all personal data processed through Interpol’s channels complies with its constitution.
Particularly relevant here, the ID said, is article 3 of the constitution which “prohibits any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character”.
It added: “We are confident that these notices do not violate the requirements of article 3 in that they are neither politically motivated nor of a military, religious or racial character.”
But while the CCF verifies the legitimacy of the request, the data submitted to it cannot be shared with Interpol members and this grants the fugitive brothers a reprieve in terms of being able to travel internationally without detection.
Sources said the NPA was meanwhile still battling to secure progress from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on an extradition request for the two Gupta brothers, three years after Pretoria and Dubai signed an extradition treaty.
“The UAE is playing games with us,” one source said on Wednesday.
Sharma and three former senior Free State officials are due to go on trial in the Bloemfontein high court on 6 September for colluding to shift money to Islandsite Investments, one of the Guptas’ alleged main money-laundering vehicles.
The Nulane tender case is seen as a precursor to indicting those implicated in the Vrede dairy farm project in which R130-million flowed to the Guptas, who fled South Africa five years ago.
At that point they set up base in Dubai but there have been reports they may since have changed domicile, potentially further complicating South Africa’s efforts to force their return to face trial.