Gupta family, South Africa
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1993-2018: a controversial innings
A politically-connected business dynasty that moved to South Africa from India, the Gupta family finds itself at the centre of many of the scandals that have dogged President Jacob Zuma’s administration.
A day after the ruling ANC ordered Zuma out of office, the Guptas’ prominent role in his presidency was highlighted as elite crime-busters raided the family’s mansion in Johannesburg.
The family is headed by Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (“Tony”) Gupta, three brothers from Uttar Pradesh.
Led by Atul, they arrived in South Africa in 1993 as whiteminority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections. As the country opened up to foreign investment, the Guptas — previously small-scale businessmen in India — built a sprawling empire involved in computers, mining, media, technology and engineering.
The New Age, an ardently pro-Zuma newspaper, was launched in 2010, and the 24-hour news channel ANN7 took to the airwaves in 2013 with a similar editorial slant. They had developed close links with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party focusing particularly on Zuma, well before he became president in 2009.
Zuma’s son Duduzane was a director of the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers, named after their hometown of Saharanpur, and has been involved with several of the family’s other companies. Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema and one of his daughters have also been in the employ of the Guptas.
Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas claimed in March 2015 that the Guptas had offered him the post of finance minister, in return for obeying the family’s instructions — for which he would allegedly be paid 600 million rand ($50 million). Backbench ANC lawmaker David van Rooyen was then revealed to have visited the Guptas’ home the night before his brief appointment as finance minister on December 9, 2015.
South Africa’s ethics watchdog, the Public Protector, published a report in October 2016, finding that the state-owned electricity monopoly had awarded a massive coal order to a then-Gupta linked business at well above market prices. The report also alleged that former mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane “travelled to Switzerland with the Guptas to help them seal the deal” to buy a struggling coal mine.
In recent years, major banks have withdrawn their facilities to the Guptas, complicating the payment of salaries to staff and the day-to-day running of their empire.
Internal warnings on large cash transfers out of South Africa by the powerful Gupta business family were not heeded by HSBC, according to a British peer, who has demanded UK regulators probe the London-headquartered multinational lender for “possible criminal complicity“ in money laundering, reported leading London daily Financial Times.
The Gupta family owns businesses spanning computer equipment, media and mining. In 2016 Atul Gupta became the seventh wealthiest person in South Africa with an estimated net worth of $773.47 million. The family had migrated from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh to South Africa in 1993, shortly before the country's first democratic elections, to establish a computer firm. Former Labour cabinet minister Peter Hain informed the House of Lords last Wednesday that he had asked the UK Treasury to seek a probe into allegations against an unknown British bank for illicit transfers of funds on behalf of the Guptas, who are at the centre of a corruption scandal in South Africa, newspaper reported on Monday .
Incidentally , the paper said, Hain had on Tuesday separately sent a letter to the Treasury and the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), mentioning evidence that HSBC's internal systems had red-flagged the transfers as suspicious. Hain told the Lords on Wednesday that he had information that the UK headquarters had directed to ignore the transfers.
The FCA has said it received the letter and will respond in due course. The letter from Hain, who grew up in South Africa, urged the FCA to probe “a serious breach“ of the watchdog's practice at HSBC UK.
Empire crumbles as Zuma exits presidency
Brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta ranked among South Africa's most prominent businessmen.
The Guptas arrived in South Africa from India in the early 1990s. Guptas' business partner included Jacob Zuma's son and they employed one of his four wives.
For years, brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta were ranked among South Africa's most prominent businessmen and socialized with the ruling elite, including their friend, then-President Jacob Zuma.
They weathered accusations that they'd exploited their political connections to land an aircraft at a high-security military base to ferry guests to a private wedding, installed their allies in key positions at state companies, tried to influence cabinet appointments and looted billions of rand of taxpayer funds. Law enforcement agencies took no visible action against them, saying only that investigations were ongoing.
That all changed on February 14, when Zuma quit as president under pressure+ from the ruling African National Congress the same day the police's Hawks investigative unit staged a dawn raid on the Guptas' sprawling luxury estate in Johannesburg's Saxonwold suburb. Some of their top lieutenants were arrested and the eldest brother, Ajay, was declared a fugitive.
The timing of the two events was no coincidence, according to Mark Swilling, a professor at Stellenbosch University who convened an academics' study last year that concluded that the Zumas, the Guptas and their allies had orchestrated "a silent coup."
"There is a multi-pronged attack on the Zuma-Gupta network," Swilling said. "One of these was a political attack launched from within the ANC+ to get rid of Zuma as the linchpin of that power elite. Linked to that is another set of actions initiated by the criminal justice system to nail the Guptas."
The Guptas arrived in South Africa from India in the early 1990s+ and built up a business empire with interests ranging from mining to pay television. They acquired a private jet and mansions from Cape Town to Dubai. Their business partners included Zuma's son, Duduzane, and they employed one of his four wives.
The Guptas became household names in South Africa in 2013 when they secured access to the Waterkloof airforce base for their wedding guests. Their notoriety grew in 2016, when then-Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas said the brothers had offered to make him finance minister at a meeting arranged by Duduzane in exchange for business concessions. Zuma and the Guptas denied any wrongdoing.
Then in June last year the amaBhungane Centre for Investigative Journalism and the Daily Maverick website's Scorpio unit unveiled the so-called Gupta Leaks -- a trove of more than 1 million electronic documents. They allegedly contained emailed exchanges between the Guptas and their most trusted allies, lists of people who were invited to their parties, supplier agreements, documents detailing the laundering of money between their scores of companies and detailed favors due to politicians.
"The Gupta Leaks was the tipping point," said Ben Theron, the chief operating officer of Johannesburg-based civil society group, the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse. "It shone a bright light on the exact nature and extent of the involvement of the Gupta family and their associates and all the government officials involved. The population was given a crash course in democracy, legal systems, the economy, state-owned companies and how safeguards failed us."
Despite seemingly having ample material for a damning indictment, the authorities waited until the ANC decided Zuma should be replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who had won control of the party in December after campaigning on an anti-corruption ticket.
The Hawks began by arresting suspects implicated in siphoning off more than 200 million rand ($17 million) from a state-funded dairy farm to Gupta-controlled accounts. Five acting and former chief executives of Gupta-controlled companies were among eight people charged and released on bail.
While the three Gupta brothers weren't directly named in the case, the Hawks said Ajay had failed to turn himself in with regard to a separate probe and "is now regarded as fugitive." He was seen departing South Africa for Dubai on February 6.
Atul Gupta, whose bank accounts were frozen after he allegedly received a direct payment of 10 million rand from the dairy projects, signed legal documents in Dubai in which he denied wrongdoing. There have been no reported sightings of Rajesh Gupta. South Africa said it will work with Interpol and other governments to ensure all those implicated in wrongdoing are brought to justice.
It remains to be seen if the Guptas will be extradited or if some of the looted funds can be recouped according to Iraj Abedian, head of Pan-African Investments and Research Services, an associate of New York-based Global Source Partners Inc., who has advised the South African government on economic policy.
"It is going to be very hard and painful to right all the wrongs," Abedian said. "Litigation takes time, wheels of justice turn so slowly, and when peppered with political issues, then the wheels move even slower.”
2018: Court allows BoB to leave South Africa
A top South African court has allowed Bank of Baroda to close its operations in the country next month, over its links with the controversial India-born Gupta brothers who are facing massive corruption allegations.
Judge Ntendeya Mavundla of the Pretoria High Court yesterday dismissed with costs an application by 20 companies linked to the Guptas seeking to stop the Bank of Baroda (BoB) from closing all its accounts and leaving South Africa.
The Indian state-owned bank announced last month that it had decided to close down operations in South Africa in line with a revision of its global strategy. BoB was the only bank that had been working with the Gupta companies.