South African Corruption with Indian Flavor

Jacob Zuma resigned as the President of South Africa on 14th February after days of defying orders from the ruling African National Congress to leave office. This came on the eve of a no-confidence vote against him in the parliament.

The 75 year old Zuma’s resignation in a televised address to the nation ended an extraordinary day in South African politics. The day began with a dawn raid by an elite South African police team on a business family at the centre of the corruption allegations leveled at Zuma.

Hangwani Mulaudzi, a spokesman for the special police unit known as the Hawks, said the operation was part of an investigation into allegations of influence-peddling in the government besides misuse of millions of dollars of public funds.

The aforesaid family is of Gupta Brothers. These three brothers; Ajay, Rajesh and Atul Gupta migrated to South Africa from Saharanpur in India. Atul Gupta was the first brother to arrive in South Africa during 1993 and start a family business ‘Sahara Computers’.

Over the years, Gupta brothers diversified into mining, airlines, energy, technology and media in South Africa. Newspaper ‘The New Age’ and News Channel ‘ANN7’ owned by the Guptas always lavishly praised the Zuma government.

By 2016 Atul Gupta was the seventh richest South African with a personal wealth of over $700 million. The Gupta family has a $3.4 million estate in Johannesburg. It comprises of four mansions besides a helipad. Sir Mark Thatcher’s former Cape Town house is also owned by the Guptas.

Jacob Zuma’s son Duduzane was a director of Sahara computers besides being involved in Guptas other businesses. Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema and one of his daughters were also employed with the Gupta businesses.

The Gupta brothers are accused of influencing political decisions in South Africa. Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas stated in March 2016 that a Gupta family member offered to promote him to the minister’s post in 2015 in exchange of providing the family with state favours.

The Guptas are also alleged to have lobbied against politicians, who meddled with the family’s business. They often succeeded at even getting ministers in the South African cabinet sacked.

In 2013, the Guptas flew in guests from abroad (mainly India) in a private Airbus A330 to the Waterkloof Air Force base, which is reserved only for the foreign ‘heads of states’ visiting South Africa. This episode raised a lot of heat in the South African society.

Atul Gupta ultimately rendered a half-hearted apology while saying they wanted to “give (our) daughter a memorable wedding on South African soil”.

Millions of dollars worth of public funds, which were meant to support poor farmers were directly deposited into Atul Gupta’s personal account. A leading PR firm ‘Bell Pottinger’ was expelled from the South African PR trade body after being accused of taking money from a Gupta owned company to ‘manufacture’ a controversy.

As per BBC, the PR firm created fake Twitter pages, emphasizing on the power of white businesses using the hashtag # whitemonopolycapital. This was done to incite racial tensions and divert attention of the South Africans from the corruption claims made against the Guptas and their close association with Jacob Zuma.

In 2016, South African ethics watchdog mentioned in a report that the state owned electricity monopoly gave a huge coal order to a business linked with the Guptas at well over the prevailing market prices.

The report stated that former mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane travelled to Switzerland with the Guptas to help them seal a deal regarding buying a struggling coal mine.

The family has been mentioned a staggering 232 times in the above mentioned report titled; “State of Capture”. It reveals the high influence wielded by the Guptas on Zuma as well as his government.

South Africa’s chief prosecutor has now declared Ajay Gupta as a fugitive from Justice after he failed to appear before the police.

The Gupta brothers meanwhile have fled back to India, where they have been provided Z category security by the government of Uttarakhand province. The brothers own properties in Dehradun, which is the capital city of Uttarakhand.

The Z class security provided by the state government is available only to a select few. The Guptas are the first businessmen to get Z kind of security cover from the Uttarakhand government.

Indian Prime Minister Modi’s party, BJP holds power in Uttarakhand province besides controlling the national government of India.

This clearly reveals that the Gupta family has strong support and links with the Indian ruling party’s top leadership. The prospects, therefore of Guptas ever facing trial in South Africa for their corruption scandals are non- existent.

 

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