An arrest warrant, the issuing of an Interpol red notice and now an extradition treaty is making the world a smaller place for the Gupta brothers.
While South Africa and the United Arab Emirates, this week, welcomed the ratification of the treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance, there is still concern, that it could take some time before the alleged masterminds of state capture find themselves back in the country.
National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shamila Batohi, speaking at a press conference, yesterday, said even with these new developments, this did not necessarily mean the Guptas would be on the next flight to South Africa.
Batohi said an exact timeline could not be put on the extradition processes but explained that “it will take some time”.
Batohi said that, in general, once the suspects were arrested abroad, legal processes would have to take place in that country first.
Then, it would be a political process. The country’s executive would decide if they will surrender the suspects to South Africa for prosecution.
“And once they have been arrested, they have a right to defend themselves and do whatever they can to prevent that extradition from occurring in terms of UAE domestic extradition law,” said immigration lawyer Gary Eisenberg, who added that this process could include various appeals through the UAE courts.
Batohi yesterday also expressed wary scepticism over the new agreement.
She said, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) would only accept that there was cooperation from the UAE once they have received the evidence, such as bank statements and records of the Gupta family and their associates, which they had, for over three years since, requested from the UAE authorities, thus far, without any success.
“The ratification of the treaties is a positive development. But, we will only know if this is making a difference, once our request for mutual legal assistance was fully executed by the UAE and we get the necessary evidence,” said Batohi.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and Batohi met with the UAE ambassador Mahash Saeed Alhameli, on Thursday, following the announcement on the ratification of the treaties made by Alhameli’s office, earlier in the week.
According to a source who asked to not be named, the South African government were eminently displeased that Alhameli’s office made the announcement before them, and therefore, rushed to meet with the ambassador, on Thursday.
Batohi sharply responded to whether the ratifications of the treaties would fast-track bringing the Gupta’s back to South Africa, to formally answer, in the country’s courts, for their alleged wrongdoing.
“The treaty doesn’t really change anything. In the spirit of cooperation, we hope there is a change and positive response to our requests, as soon as possible,” Batohi said.
Lamola said, the South African government did expect cooperation from the UAE going forward “because it was a commitment we received from the ambassador”.
Ambassador Alhameli declined to be interviewed “to maintain a good diplomatic relationship”.
“We appreciate the position of South Africa regarding their need for information and it was necessary to reach the completion of the treaty procedures. Both parties need each other,” Alhameli told Independent Media, yesterday.
In the past, said Eisenberg, the UAE was used by South African fugitives to escape extradition. But, this is all changing.
“It's trying to modernize into a western style of government and to clean up its regulations,” said Eisenberg. And he believes there was much more going on behind the scenes. “So, this was probably a well coordinated, international event or set of events from various directions. I'd ask why the UAE ratified the extradition agreement after a number of years, just after South Africa issued an arrest warrant.”
The arrest warrant for Gupta brothers, Atul and Rajesh, and their wives, Chetali and Arti, is for their alleged involvement in the failed Estina dairy farm, in Vrede, Free State.
It comes as the inquiry into state capture draws to a close after hearing explosive evidence of how the Gupta brothers and their associates allegedly made off with billions of South Africa’s money, the pressure is mounting on the government to hold them to account.
On Thursday, political parties and civic organisations gathered outside the UAE Embassy, in Pretoria, and demanded the Guptas assets be seized, their extradition process begin, and that they should finally be brought to book within South Africa’s institutional justice system.
South Africa and the UAE began negotiating the treaties in February 2010 and the agreement between the two nations was entered into in September 2018. The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services at the time, Advocate Michael Masutha, and his UAE counterpart, Sultan Saeed Al Badi, signed the treaties in Abu Dhabi.
Within two months of entering into the agreement, South Africa ratified the treaties.
“In essence, the ratification by the UAE concludes a 10-year process,” Lamola said.
The treaties will come into force 30 days after the ratification instruments have been exchanged, which is July 10, 2021.