/ 25 July 2022

SA files formal extradition request for Gupta brothers

System failure: Ajay and Atul Gupta. Muntu Vilakazi/Gallo/City Press
Ajay and Atul Gupta. (Muntu Vilakazi/Gallo/City Press)

South Africa has submitted an extradition request to the United Arab Emirates for Ajay and Rajesh Gupta to face charges flowing from the Nulane and Estina scams in which the Free State government was defrauded of R225-million, justice minister Ronald Lamola confirmed today.

The request was filed about a week within the 60-day deadline for the state to do so, as per the extradition treaty with the UAE, after the arrest of the two brothers in Dubai on June 2.

They are among the accused — along with former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma — in the Nulane Investments case that is in the pre-trial stage at the Free State high court.

Lamola confirmed that warrants were also issued for the Gupta brothers in the investigation into the Estina scandal, where it is alleged that money looted from a dairy farm project in Vrede was used to fund a lavish family wedding at Sun City.

National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi suggested the case could be brought to court soon.

“Warrants of arrest have been issued but they have not been executed, so that matter will have to be re-enrolled,” she told a news conference.

The case was previously enrolled but provisionally withdrawn in 2018 after the state encountered several obstacles, among them a lack of cooperation from Emirati authorities on bank transactions reflecting allegedly illicit money flows.

Lawyers familiar with the case have privately described it as poorly prepared.

Batohi said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) would not enrol a matter if it were not satisfied that it stood a reasonable chance of success in court.

“We certainly have evidence in the other matter that would actually meet the standard of reasonable prospects of a successful prosecution and those documents are being finalised as we speak,” she said.

Batohi said if the request was successful, the surrender of the brothers could take “several months” still, as it will now serve first before the Emirati court of appeal to ensure that the requesting state had met all the requirements and then, about 30 days later, be heard by the supreme court.

“Thereafter, the attorney general will submit the matter to the minister of justice in the UAE for the final decision,” she said. “We understand that it could take a couple of months to finalise.”

She confirmed that the Gupta brothers had applied for bail, but were denied, and remain in custody.

When Batohi was asked whether she believed the NPA had a good chance of securing the conviction of the two brothers in the Nulane case she replied that it would not have enrolled the matter if it did not believe it had a reasonable prospect of success.

Serious reservations were raised about the capacity of the prosecuting team handling the case since the last hearing date last month, when lead prosecutor Nazeer Cassim conceded that there was a risk it would not be trial-ready on 23 January.

This week, lawyers for the Guptas brothers are expected to file an application for further and better particulars as to the case their clients have to answer. Initial papers filed by the prosecution were described as woefully inadequate and Mike Hellens SC, for the brothers, has threatened to move to have the charges withdrawn.

“That is the role of some defence lawyers – to create the impression that there is no case. But we expect that,” Batohi said.

She termed the submission of the request “an important milestone in the NPA’s commitment to hold accountable the perpetrators of state capture”.

“It reaffirms our resolve to be lawyers for the people and to seek collective justice for our country.”

Batohi was reluctant to disclose whether the NPA would persist with attempts to have Interpol issue red notices for the brothers’ spouses, Chetali and Arti Gupta. 

The women are co-accused in the Nulane Investments case, where more than R20-million in Free State provincial funds was skimmed off a fraudulent and inflated tender, and swiftly diverted to Islandsite, the front company described as the Guptas’ main money-laundering enterprise.

Lamola said South African authorities had had cooperation from the UAE on the extradition process so far. The UAE has been eager to be seen to clamp down on financial crime and redeem its standing after it was grey-listed by the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force in March.