UAE rejects extradition of South Africa's graft-accused Gupta brothers
South Africa said on Friday it had learnt with "shock and dismay" that the United Arab Emirates had turned down its request to extradite two brothers accused of orchestrating industrial-scale corruption.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the government was notified on Thursday evening of a Dubai court decision not to allow for the extradition of business tycoons Atul and Rajesh Gupta.
"We learnt with shock and dismay that the extradition hearing had been concluded in the Dubai Court on the 13 February 2023 and our extradition request was unsuccessful," Lamola said in a statement.
The Guptas are alleged to have colluded with former president Jacob Zuma to siphon off state assets from South Africa, the continent's most advanced economy.
South Africa filed the extradition request in July last year after the two were arrested in Dubai a month earlier.
The arrests followed the inking of an extradition treaty between Pretoria and the UAE.
The ultra-wealthy brothers ran a sprawling family business empire in South Africa for more than two decades after migrating from India.
South Africa's case centres on an alleged 25-million-rand ($1.6-million) fraud linked to an agricultural feasibility study – small fry compared to the scale of other allegations facing the family.
Lamola said the extradition was denied on a technicality.
The Dubai court determined that the UAE had jurisdiction on the charge of money laundering, as the crime in question was alleged to have been committed in the country as well as in South Africa, he said.
On the charge of fraud and corruption, "the court found that the arrest warrant relating to this charge was cancelled", the minister said.
"The reasons provided for denying our request are inexplicable and fly in the face of the assurances given by Emirati authorities that our requests meet their requirements," Lamola said.
The minister accused the UAE of not having properly consulted the South African government before the extradition was turned down, saying such a "level of non-cooperation" was "highly unprecedented".
He said authorities had received only an Arabic summary of the judgment and had had to work overnight to understand and analyse the document.
"That is the life we have been living with the authorities in the UAE," a frustrated Lamola told a press briefing.
"We still intend to engage our counterparts… to ensure that the decision of the court is promptly appealed," he added.
The two Indian-born brothers were at the heart of a massive plunder of state-owned enterprises that dogged Zuma's nine-year tenure, according to a marathon investigation published last year.
They arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country's first democratic elections.
Under Zuma, the pair became enmeshed at the highest levels of government and in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), including influencing ministerial appointments, according to the 5,600-page report.
Paul Holden, an investigator who runs an NGO alongside a former ANC MP, has estimated that the cost of the Guptas' alleged illicit activities in South Africa could be as much as 50 billion rand, or more than $3.2 billion.
The Guptas fled to the UAE in 2018 at the start of an anti-corruption push.
Zuma and the brothers have denied any wrongdoing.
According to media reports earlier this week, the two Guptas were spotted in Switzerland in late March.