The Democratic Alliance (DA), South Africa’s leading opposition party, has welcomed the arrest of the controversial Gupta brothers by police in the United Arab Emirates and called for their prosecution.
Atul and Rajesh Gupta, two of the leading members of the Gupta family, were arrested in Dubai on Tuesday.
They fled there in April 2016, shortly after investigations into their role in using their affiliation with former president Jacob Zuma, to influence contracts and appointments, intensified.
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.
In a statement on Tuesday, the DA called for more arrests in connection with the theft of state funds, “We hope that this is indeed the beginning of arrests and prosecution of those who have – locally and abroad – looted our country for years and are directly responsible for the hardships that millions of South Africans face today.”
The Dubai Police said that it received a “red notice” alert from Interpol following efforts by the South African Department of Justice and Correctional Services to arrest the brothers who are “among South Africa’s most wanted suspects, in connection with money laundering and criminal charges in South Africa”.
The charges relate to a $1.6m government contract awarded to a Gupta-owned company, Islandsite, through an investment firm owned by a Gupta affiliate Iqbal Sharma, by the Department of Agriculture in the Free State province, according to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).
Vuyo Zungula, leader of the smaller opposition party African Transformation Movement (ATM), also commented, saying, “The law must run its course, and we hope that the nation will be kept abreast of all developments until the finalisation of the court processes.”
The governing African National Congress (ANC) also released a statement on Tuesday urging the authorities in South Africa and the UAE “to expedite the extradition of Messrs Gupta to South Africa so that the charges against them can be adjudicated by a court of law.”
But other politicians seem to be wary of the latest developments.
Julus Malema, the outspoken leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) said the story might be “a diversion to take away attention from President Cyril Ramaphosa”, who has also been at the receiving end of serious accusations of corruption recently.
“Show me a picture of the Guptas in prison,” he told the media during a news conference on Tuesday, “There is a huge possibility that this story is being used as a diversion.”
A commission was set up to investigate corruption by top government officials and Zuma associates, especially the Guptas, throughout his presidency.
Hundreds of witnesses testified before the commission which cost $65m in its three years of operation. The first part of the “state capture report” was delivered in January 2022. According to the report, the Guptas allegedly funnelled millions through government contracts into their own companies.
The Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said, “Discussions between various law enforcement agencies in the UAE and South Africa on the way forward are ongoing. The South African government will continue to co-operate with the UAE.”
Chrispin Phiri, a spokesperson for the ministry declined to comment on the next stages in the extradition of the Gupta brothers or the kind of transparency the public will be granted.
“We will not make any additional comments; we can only confirm arrests at this time,” he told Al Jazeera.