South Africa Lifts 'Fugitive' Tag Against Indian-origin Businessman Ajay Gupta due to Lack of Evidence
Ajay Gupta (L) and Atul Gupta (R) | (Photo: enca.com)

Johannesburg, February 18: South Africa has dropped an arrest warrant issued against India-born businessman and head of Gupta family -- Ajay Gupta, formerly a close aide of South Africa's former president Jacob Zuma.

South Africa's National Prosecution Authority (NPA) decided on Thursday to scrap the arrest warrant issued in February 2018 for Ajay Gupta, who was considered a "fugitive from justice" after he and his family fled South Africa for Dubai a year ago.

The decision was taken "so that we can give more credence into the ongoing investigation as well as to make sure that the team that is working on the other matters that been presented to the Hawks, country's elite police force, so that they are able to deal with them," NPA spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi told the media on Friday. He said lack of conclusive evidence was the reason behind scrapping the fugitive status of the India-born businessman. "Once everything has been done, I think it is the decision of the NPA to be able to see whether that matter will still go on or not," he said.

Mulaudzi was referring to the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture which is still going ahead, where a number of allegations have been made against the Gupta family of colluding with former President Jacob Zuma to capture key public assets and build the family’s empire. Gupta and his younger siblings Atul and Rajesh are accused of attempted state capture and corruption through alleged irregular contracts running into billions of rands by using their close relationship to President Zuma.

Ajay was accused of offering the then Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas a bribe of 600 million-rand (USD 42.6 million) to take on the post of Finance Minister in Zuma's Cabinet. In return, Jonas was expected to give priority to the Gupta businesses in the IT, mining and media sector for government tenders.

This NPA decision follows the one taken by it last month not to prosecute Duduzane Zuma, son of the former president, who allegedly was the link between Jonas and the Guptas. According to analysts, this left the prosecutors with little choice but to provisionally withdraw the charges against Ajay.

Questions are now being asked whether Ajay will appear before the Commission since he no longer faces the threat of arrest if he sets foot on South African soil. Commission head Judge Raymond Zondo has refused to allow any Gupta testimony at the Commission via video link, citing that this would amount to preferential treatment, but agreed to personal submissions.

In an earlier interview with the New York Times, Ajay said he is willing to return to South Africa and speak to the Commission to clear his family’s name. “I’m not saying that I’m not coming to the commission. I will, but not at this moment. I want to clear my name. Was Ajay Gupta or Gupta family proven guilty? One place? One smallest thing?” “Forget Nene… We never asked any minister for any commercial benefit.”

The Gupta family arrived in South Africa from Saharanpur in the 1990's as the new democracy under former President Nelson Mandela opened up opportunities to establish the Sahara IT company. They soon expanded their business interests to other sectors. The Gupta family now owns a range of business interests, including computing, mining, air travel, energy, technology and media.

Their media company comprising The New Age daily and the TV Network ANN7 was controversially sold through vendor financing to an associate, who was forced to shut them down within months of taking over. A number of Gupta-owned mining companies are either in business rescue or facing closure.

The Gupta family, the three Gupta brothers are known friends of former President Zuma - and his son, daughter and one of the president's wives reportedly worked for the family's firms.

Zuma's links to the Gupta family and allegations of bribery is one of the reasons he had to resign before the 2019 general election. The Guptas and Zuma have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.