South Africa has formally filed a request with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to extradite two brothers accused of orchestrating industrial-scale corruption in the country, according to its justice minister.
Business tycoons Atul and Rajesh Gupta were held in Dubai last month on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.
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They fled there in April 2018, shortly after investigations intensified into their role in using their affiliation with former President Jacob Zuma to influence contracts and appointments and siphon off state assets from Africa’s most advanced economy.
The scandal led to the phrase “state capture” becoming a buzzword in South African politics.
Zuma, who was president from 2009 to 2018, is on trial for misappropriation of state funds during his tenure in collusion with the brothers, among others. He and the Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.
“We can confirm that the extradition request has been duly submitted to the UAE central authority today,” Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told a press conference.
The request is the first step in a process that experts have warned could take years.
South Africa’s case centres on an alleged 25-million-rand ($1.5-million) fraud linked to an agricultural feasibility study – small fry compared to the scale of other allegations facing the Gupta family.
Lamola said the alleged study scam is heading for South Africa’s High Court, with a provisional trial date set for January 2023.
The ultra-wealthy brothers ran a sprawling family business empire in South Africa for more than two decades after migrating from India.
Their arrests followed the inking of an extradition treaty between Pretoria and the UAE.
The pair fled to the emirate in 2018 at the start of an anti-corruption push.
An investigation found that they paid bribes for state contracts and wielded influence over ministerial appointments in a scandal that tainted Zuma’s administration and eventually forced him from office.