Who are the Gupta brothers, the family accused of looting South Africa?

Jacob Zuma, former South African president, arrives following a recess break in the state capture inquiry in Johannesburg on July 15, 2019. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Waldo Swiegers.

Atul and Rajesh Gupta, business executives accused of plundering South African government resources with the support of the country’s former president, have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates, ending a run as fugitives.

Dubai police said Tuesday, June 7, 2022, that the brothers were taken into custody after an Interpol red notice was issued and that they were working with South African authorities on extradition. The UAE ratified an extradition treaty with South Africa last year that was widely viewed as an attempt by the South African government to bring the brothers back to stand trial.

The pair, along with a third brother, Ajay Gupta, have been accused by a high-level inquiry of extracting favors from former South African president Jacob Zuma for their personal profit. Zuma, a once celebrated freedom fighter, was jailed last year for refusing to cooperate with the investigation. He has called charges of corruption a “conspiracy.”

The Gupta family has denied wrongdoing. Their lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Ajay Gupta’s whereabouts are not known, but a 2018 warrant for his arrest was canceled the following year.

Here’s what you need to know about the Gupta brothers and the criminal charges they face in South Africa.

Q: Who are the Gupta brothers, and how are they connected to former South African president Jacob Zuma?

A: Born in India, the three Gupta brothers moved to South Africa in the early 1990s, near the tail end of the apartheid regime. The brothers quickly developed business interests in an array of sectors, including energy and media, and cultivated ties with members of the African National Congress. The ANC led the struggle to end White-minority rule in South Africa and has governed Africa’s third-largest economy since 1994.

The Guptas became particularly close with Zuma and his family. The former president’s son, Duduzane Zuma, was a business partner of the brothers. Ties of patronage between the families are so strong that critics have referred to them collectively as the “Zuptas.”

Such was the Guptas’ reach that they had control over appointments in Zuma’s cabinet, according to testimony by a government minister.

Q: Why were the Gupta brothers arrested?

A: Zuma resigned from office in 2018, and the Guptas are believed to have left South Africa shortly after.

After Zuma’s departure, a commission led by Raymond Zondo, now South Africa’s chief justice, began looking into allegations of “state capture” during his nine-year presidency. State capture refers to how private entities exert illegitimate influence over the government and use public resources for personal profit.

After more than 400 days of hearings involving hundreds of witnesses, the inquiry released a series of reports this year that accused Zuma of presiding over a “culture of corrupt practices.” Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan has estimated that theft of public funds while Zuma was president may have amounted to more than $6.5 billion, Bloomberg News reported.

The findings also detailed how the brothers advanced their business interests by holding sway over key state appointments. The inquiry concluded that Zuma chose top leaders at Eskom, the country’s electricity monopoly, after closely consulting with the Guptas. (Eskom has been blamed for South Africa’s regular power cuts.)

Such actions “readily opened the doors” for the Gupta brothers to “help themselves to the money and assets of the people of South Africa,” the commission found.

Atul and Rajesh Gupta face charges of fraud and money laundering in South Africa. The U.S. government sanctioned the three brothers in 2019, accusing them of using their influence to “engage in widespread corruption and bribery, capture government contracts, and misappropriate state assets.”

Q: How has South Africa addressed corruption since the state capture probe?

A: Zuma’s dramatic fall from grace, which ended with his becoming the first former president to be imprisoned in South Africa, triggered days of unrest, looting and arson across the country. The debate about his prosecution also left a deep fissure within the ruling ANC.

Zuma’s successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has pledged to rid the ANC of “bad and deviant tendencies.” He committed not to offer positions of power to anyone who intended “to fill their own pockets.”

But South Africa’s anti-graft drive faces major head winds. A bullet was recently mailed to a senior Ramaphosa aide, along with a note demanding that the government abandon corrective action based on the state-capture commission’s findings. South Africa’s position on Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index has been virtually unchanged since 2017, Zuma’s last full year in office.



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