he United Arab Emirates (UAE) has rejected South Africa’s request to surrender Atul and Rajesh Gupta to stand trial for state capture crimes.
Word came in a diplomatic note received late on Thursday, informing the justice ministry that an extradition hearing had taken place in Dubai more than six weeks ago and that the court denied the request.
It found that the arrest warrant for the brothers on fraud and corruption charges had been cancelled, and that as far as those of money-laundering were concerned, the UAE had jurisdiction to prosecute the alleged crime.
“In the evening of the 6th of April 2023, we were provided with a note verbale from the United Arab Emirates. In which we learnt with shock and dismay that the extradition hearing had been concluded in the Dubai court on 13 February 2023 and our extradition request was unsuccessful,” the ministry said.
The diplomatic letter was delivered to Pretoria on Wednesday, but Lamola learnt of it a day later when he contacted the UAE ambassador to ask for an update on the process.
The minister had sent the note in early March, signalling that he wished to fly to Dubai to meet his Emirati counterpart but received no reply. It was the third missive in three months to go unanswered and there was no indication that a court hearing had taken place in the meanwhile.
“The court found that on the charge of money laundering the crime in question is alleged to have been committed in the United Arab Emirates and South Africa, in terms of the federal laws of the United Arab Emirates extradition can be denied because the United Arab Emirates has the jurisdiction to prosecute the crime,” the ministry said.
“On the charge of fraud and corruption, the court found that the arrest warrant relating to this charge was cancelled.”
The extradition request was filed in July last year, and although the refusal was not wholly unexpected it has infuriated the ministry.
Lamola described the lack of cooperation from the UAE as “unprecedented in the arena of extradition requests”.
He said South Africa would appeal the decision.
The ministry has, for months, been cold-shouldered by its Emirati counterparts as it sought assurances from Dubai that the matter was proceeding smoothly and a hearing date would be set soon. In recent weeks there have been European media reports that the brothers were not in custody, but able to travel, including to Switzerland.
“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.
“South Africans would be justified to believe that they are being denied justice, and we will act in accordance with this belief. We will call upon our counterparts in the United Arab Emirates to honour the letter and spirit of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption by ensuring that these matters raised are clarified with a degree of urgency.”
He said the manner in which the UAE had treated the request was inconsistent with article 17 of the convention to which both South Africa and the UAE were signatories.
“Article 17 places a clear requirement on state parties to obtain clarity on a specific matter before refusing an extradition request.”
The clause stipulates that before refusing an extradition request, the country to whom it is directed should consult with the requesting state “to provide it with ample opportunity to present its opinions and to provide information relevant to its allegation”.
“We believe that every state should err on the side of accountability and transparency instead of opaqueness and obfuscation. Particularly at a time when the geopolitical space requires elevated levels of cooperation between states.”
The arrest warrant and extradition request for the Guptas are linked to the Nulane Investments case, but they have also been named as suspects in the Estina dairy farm scam.
The Nulane and Estina cases are inextricably linked.
In the first, the Free State was criminally overcharged for a feasibility study designed to ensure that the tender for the dairy farm development project in Vrede went to Estina, from where the state alleges R280 million flowed to what it terms, in court papers, “the Gupta enterprise”, and eventually helped to fund the infamous Gupta family wedding at Sun City.
Source : Mail&Guardian