Lamola: UAE appears willing to help with Gupta matter after earlier hesitation

Since the arrests of some businesspeople connected to the Guptas, the UAE will have to cooperate, says Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola.

FILE: Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola addresses the media in Pretoria during a virtual Cabinet briefing on 6 August 2020. Picture: @GovernmentZA/Twitter

JOHANNESBURG - Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola told Eyewitness News in a wide-ranging interview last week that authorities in the United Arab Emirates appeared willing to cooperate with South Africa in its pursuit of information and other assistance regarding the Gupta family after initial hesitancy.

Past requests for cooperation yielded no results, leading to Pretoria’s reliance on the United Nations convention against corruption to go after the family suspected of being the kingpins in the looting of state funds. It appears this decision in dealing with the Gupta family has nudged the UAE in the right direction. Lamola said that while the initial feedback from the Emirates when they made a request for mutual legal assistance was negative, there had been some progress.

“You would have heard there have been arrests, which we hope will lead to the request for extradition, which will further route again to the authorities in the UAE and they will have no choice but to cooperate,” Lamola said.

The NPA last week made progress in its quest to prosecute the controversial family, which fled the country in 2018 after former President Jacob Zuma’s resignation.

The NPA’s Investigative Directorate said that it had approached the International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) to execute arrest warrants for Atul and Rajesh Gupta, along with their wives and their four business associates.

The UAE is a member of Interpol, which can allow for the location and arrest of wanted people facing prosecution.

NPA Investigative Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said that the NPA wanted those people and others to come back to South Africa and to be charged with fraud and money laundering. It is also seeking the arrest of other suspects outside the country involved in the feasibility study of the Vrede dairy farm, in the Free State. Millions of rands were diverted from the farm project, which was intended to uplift poor people in the province.
Iqbal Sharma, who is a business partner to Gupta associate Salim Essa, and former Free State officials Peter Thabethe, Limakatso Morasi and Seipati Dlamini were formally charged with fraud and money laundering in Bloemfontein on Thursday. The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

Sharma’s Nulane Investments was irregularly awarded a R25 million contract to do the Vrede dairy farm feasibility study. But the work was done by Deloitte for R1.5 million. From there, the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd (Islandsite), a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family, according to the NPA.

The NPA said the modus operandi used in this case appeared to have been replicated in other government departments and projects, so it was critical that the evidence gathered in this matter was presented to court and a verdict obtained expeditiously.

"It is for this reason that prosecutors have decided to proceed separately against the accused currently in the country and those abroad, as the process of arrest and extradition may unduly delay the trial," the NPA's Investigating Directorate head Hermione Cronje said.

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Additional reporting by Nthakoana Ngatane

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