The Rise & Fall of Gupta Brothers: From UP to South Africa, Now Arrested in UAE

Who are the Gupta brothers? How much influence did they wield in South Africa? What’s the scandal? We explain.

South Asians
4 min read
Hindi Female
Edited By :Karan Mahadik

Nearly four years after the Gupta brothers from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur went into self-exile in Dubai after allegedly looting billions of rands (South African currency) from parastatal institutions in South Africa, their run seems to have come to an abrupt halt.

Law enforcement authorities in the UAE arrested Rajesh Gupta and Atul Gupta of the Gupta family, the South African government confirmed on Monday, 6 June.

The Gupta brothers are accused in South Africa of using their relationship with former President Jacob Zuma to amass wealth and influence senior Cabinet appointments; charges that both of them have strongly denied.

Who are the Gupta brothers? How much influence did they wield in SA? What’s the scandal? We explain.


The Gupta Family of Saharanpur

The three brothers – Ajay Gupta (56), Atul Gupta (54), and Rajesh 'Tony' Gupta (51) – migrated from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district in the year 1993, shortly before apartheid rule fell apart, making Nelson Mandela the country’s first democratically elected leader.

According to Times Live, a South African newspaper, the family’s patriarch, Shiv Kumar Gupta, had sent Atul to South Africa believing that “Africa would become the America of the world” in the opportunities that it has to provide.

A year later, Atul opened Correct Marketing, an import and distribution business selling computers and components, Times Live reported.

Sharing his amazement at how easy it was to set up shop in South Africa, Atul said, "we didn't find any red tape."

“I was beginning to like South Africa,” Atul said.

By 1997, the turnover of Correct Marketing amounted to Rs 97 million. In the same year, the company’s name was changed to Sahara Computers and Sahara Systems (Pvt) Ltd named after their hometown Saharanpur.

While the two younger Gupta brothers and their families became South African citizens, Ajay, whom Atul has called "a genius, an out-of-the-box thinker," came to the country permanently only in 2003, before which he used to strategise business opportunities with his father back home.

With South Africa opening up to foreign investments, the Guptas' business empire expanded to computers, mining, engineering, media, as well as passenger airline Jet Airways.

The Sahara Estate in Johannesburg's affluent Saxonwold suburb comprises at least four mansions and is roughly valued at about 52 million rand (approx Rs 250 crore).

Wayne Duvenhage, CEO of the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, said their investigations had revealed that almost 15 billion rand (approx Rs 7,500 crore) was looted by the Guptas before they fled the country.

Guptas' Sway Over the Former South African President

The Guptas had first met the then-Vice President Jacob Zuma in 2003 at Sahara Estate in Johannesburg, marking the beginning of an intimate relationship, eventually resulting in massive discontent in the African National Congress (ANC), as well as in the general public.

As soon as Zuma became the president, Duduzane Zuma, one of Zuma's sons, became a director in a number of Gupta-owned firms, while one of Zuma’s daughters, Duduzile Zuma, was made a director of the Gupta-owned Sahara computers.

Furthermore, Zuma’s third wife, Bongi Ngema, was also employed by the Guptas.

Their ties with Zuma ran so deep that in 2013, the family faced controversy after a plane carrying guests for a wedding at Sun City landed at the Waterkloof Air Base – a military air base that is meant to be used for receiving heads of state.

Things only got murkier after this.

Three years later, several allegations of the Guptas having influence over appointments to the South African Cabinet surfaced.

The Public Protector, South Africa's main anti-corruption watchdog, published a report alleging that the Guptas had tried to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers and were unlawfully awarded state tenders. So much for the lack of red tape.

The highlight of the report was the allegation that the then-Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas was invited by Zuma's son Duduzane to the Gupta family mansion where he was offered the job of finance minister and a bribe of 600 million rand.

Jonas had reportedly denied the offer saying, “It makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy‚ the trust of our people and no one apart from the President of the Republic appoints ministers.”

In the same year, former ANC MP Vytjie Mentor alleged that the Guptas offered her a ministerial post in exchange for a business deal at the Guptas Saxonworld residence, further claiming that Zuma was around when the offer was made.

All such allegations were denied by the Guptas.

However, the net around the brothers continued to tighten. In 2017, several mails showing the extent of the Gupta family’s control over South African politics were leaked, possibly striking the last nail in their luxurious coffin.

The family fled South Africa in 2018 as huge public protests led to the ANC removing Zuma and appointing Cyril Ramaphosa as the acting president.

Interpol's Red Notices; UAE and SA's Extradition Treaty

Coming back to 2022, Interpol issued Red Notices to the Gupta brothers in February. The three brothers had also been declared persona non grata by the US and the UK.

Red Notices are issued for law enforcement agencies globally to be on the lookout for fugitives who are wanted for prosecution so that they can be arrested, pending extradition.

Meanwhile, an extradition treaty was ratified between UAE and South Africa in June 2021, after which the latter immediately began the process of requesting the extradition of the Guptas.

The South African Department of Justice and Correctional Services said in a statement on Monday, “The ministry of justice and correctional services confirms that it has received information from law enforcement authorities in the UAE that fugitives of justice, namely Rajesh and Atul Gupta have been arrested,” as quoted by Sowetan Live.

It remains unclear why the third brother – Ajay – was not arrested.

(With inputs from Times Live, BBC, and Sowetan Live.)

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Topics:  Uttar Pradesh    South Africa   Saharanpur 

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