South Africans were relieved Tuesday to learn that two businessmen who’ve been fugitives since being accused of looting billions of dollars from the state have been arrested in Dubai. But their extradition and prosecution could be a complex and drawn-out legal battle.
Atul and Rajesh Gupta are two of the most notorious household names in South Africa.
The Indian-born siblings were close friends of former president Jacob Zuma and are believed to have used that connection to influence cabinet appointments and win lucrative government contracts — a scandal that’s become known here as “state capture.”
The siblings, along with third brother, Ajay, fled South Africa in 2018. Zuma is facing charges in a separate corruption case.
On Monday night, South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority confirmed the two brothers had been arrested in the United Arab Emirates and Dubai police released a statement saying they’d made the arrest “after receiving a red notice for the Gupta brothers by Interpol.”
Karam Singh, the executive director of South African non-profit organization Corruption Watch, welcomed the arrests of the fugitives, who’ve been indicted in South Africa.
“The arrest of the Gupta brothers in Dubai is a significant development in South Africa’s fight against corruption and seeking accountability for state capture,” he said.
The National Prosecuting Authority said in its statement that it is now engaging with authorities in the UAE on the matter but cautioned that “extradition is a complex process involving many role players.”
So what do ordinary South Africans think of the arrests?
Fifty-seven-year-old Thabo Mamiane, who has a shop with his wife in Johannesburg’s Parkview neighborhood, said he was thrilled.
“This is the beginning of justice, whatever Jacob Zuma and his cronies and all that, what they did in the past there, I mean this puts some kind of confidence in our government,” he said.
His wife Susan agreed.
“I also think it’s great. I think’s it’s time. It’s been long overdue,” she said.
But Mfanafuthi Tsela, walking down Tyrone avenue, was more circumspect.
“I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing because usually people get caught but still like they’re not convicted. So long as the state is capable of punishing them I will be happy. I think that is what people are expecting because they’ve done a lot of damage,” said Tsela.
Some, however, like grocery store worker Mark, were highly skeptical.
“Until we see them in handcuffs at the airport we won’t believe it,” he said.
For her part, Ntaoleng, a 25-year-old going to a local café, said justice wasn’t enough and wouldn’t fix the country’s ailing economy anyway.
“I think my concern really is that, ok cool, we find they come back, they get extradited and then we do the whole prosecution process, but then like, are we going to get the money back because if we don’t get the money back what’s the point?” she asked.
Mostly, South Africans want to have hope, and want to safeguard their democracy, but are fatigued by the slow-moving wheels of justice.