Extraditing Guptas could take over 5 years

Extraditing the Gupta brothers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to face prosecution for their involvement in state capture could take more than five years and cost South Africa a lot of money.

That is according to feedback given by justice minister Ronald Lamola to City Press following the UAE’s release of the Gupta brothers and cancellation of their arrest warrant in February 2023.

That incident infuriated the South African authorities, who claimed to have only been notified of the release two months later.

South Africa initially applied to the UAE to have Atul and Rajesh Gupta extradited to the country in July 2022.

The extradition sought to ensure the pair would stand trial on charges of fraud and money laundering during Jacob Zuma’s presidency.

That came shortly after the brothers were apprehended by UAE law enforcement in the wake of Interpol issuing a red notice for their arrest.

UAE justice minister Abdullah al Nuaimi said South Africa’s extradition application had failed because it did not meet the “strict standards for legal documentation” that formed part of the country’s extradition treaty with South Africa.

The UAE has subsequently invited South Africa to resubmit its extradition application.

Lamola told City Press his department was shocked to learn of the release and was frustrated by a lack of cooperation from the UAE government.

Ronald Lamola, Minister of Justice and Correctional Services

The UAE released the Guptas based on the fact that the first warrant of arrest was cancelled for not being compliant. This was the warrant issued for the red notice.

However, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) issued a new warrant of arrest which the UAE said was compliant, before the extradition case was heard.

The minister maintained the last communication between South Africa and the UAE had shown it was satisfied with the extradition submission.

“If there were missing documents, why didn’t they inform us?” Lamola asked.

“Why didn’t they inform us that we’d lost the case because there were certain documents that were missing, if that was the situation?”

“Extradition, by its nature, is a protracted legal process, so the political unwillingness of the UAE to hand the Guptas to us and its failure to update us on the progress of the case is questionable,” he said.

Lamola also pointed out that United Nations’ Model treaty on extradition said that extradition requests could not be dismissed on technicalities.

Extradition takes a long time

Despite the setback, Lamola said South African authorities knew the process would be protracted.

“We knew from the moment we lodged court papers for their extradition that it was the beginning of a long process, because the matter starts in a lower court,” Lamola said.

“If a magistrates’ court rules in favour of extradition, [the suspects] will appeal.”

Lamola said that could lead to the case going up to the highest court in the country before its conclusion.

Another problem is that the Guptas are currently free to leave the UAE, which could further complicate South Africa’s attempts to have them face justice in a local court.

According to the Department of Justice’s website, South Africa only has extradition treaties with 15 countries, with ongoing negotiations with nine more countries.

The department first learnt of the Gupta brothers’ release after reports that they were spotted in Switzerland. South Africa has no extradition treaty in place with that country.

Paris-based news site Africa Intelligence recently also reported the Guptas sent applications for asylum to authorities in Cameroon and the Central African Republic, which the governments of those countries were considering.

These countries fall outside the Southern African Development Community region, whose members are bound to respect extradition requests from fellow member states.

UAE court papers also showed that the Guptas were citizens of the South Pacific island country of Vanuatu, to the east of Australia, with which South Africa also has no extradition treaty.

This is the same country the Africrypt “Bitcoin Brothers” obtained citizenship from before their scheme collapsed. They have also fled South Africa and were also allegedly hiding in the UAE (specifically, Dubai) until their father was targeted by ransom gangs.

According to a Guardian report, Vanuatu’s “golden passport” scheme is infamous for allowing fugitives with money to dodge extradition.

A Vanuatu passport reportedly gives visa-free access to several countries, including the UK and European nations within the Schengen Area.

Despite the setback, Lamola said his department would not give up the fight easily.

“What we need to do is invest our resources and plan to get the Guptas back after five years,” Lamola said.

“I might no longer be the minister at that time, but it’s something we’re not going to let go of.”

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Extraditing Guptas could take over 5 years