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A police van and officers are seen inside the compound of the controversial business family, the Guptas, in Johannesburg, South Africa, on February 14, amid a graft probe over their connections to ousted former president Jacob Zuma. Photo: Agence France-Presse

South Africa widens corruption hunt for Zuma allies to China, India, Dubai

South Africa

South Africa has widened a corruption probe into allies of ex-president Jacob Zuma to China, India and Dubai, the police minister said on Sunday.

Fikile Mbalula made the announcement days after South Africa issued an arrest warrant for one of the brothers of the Gupta business family, close associates of scandal-plagued Zuma who was forced from power on Wednesday.

Mbalula told public broadcaster SABC that Ajay Gupta and another four people who are being sought in connection with the case were all out of the country.

It doesn’t matter, if you are a politician … there are no holy cows, there are no untouchables

While there was no indication that they fled the country fearing arrest, Mbalula vowed that they will “be followed up” through Interpol with the possibility of extradition to face trial in South Africa.

He said two of the suspects were of Indian descent and one other was Chinese. All are thought to be in India, China or Dubai.

“We operate through Interpol, we operate through bilateral [means], if you ever resist there will be extradition. All means necessary will be employed to ensure these people are brought to book,” said Mbalula.

He refused to name the suspects except for Ajay Gupta who police last week declared a fugitive.

Local media reports suggested that Zuma’s son Duduzane, a business associate of the Guptas, is also among those being sought, and some speculated that he could be in Dubai.

The minister refused to say whether Duduzane Zuma is on the police wanted list.

“There will be more arrests … it’s not just a witch hunt,” he said. “It doesn’t matter, if you are a politician … there are no holy cows, there are no untouchables.”

South African then president Jacob Zuma on the sidelines of the 2017 BRICS Summit in Xiamen, China, on September 5. Photo: EPA

In all, 13 people are facing charges linked to allegations that millions of dollars of public money meant for poor dairy farmers was siphoned off by the Guptas.

Last week, the Hawks, which were formally known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, raided Gupta properties as part of investigations into the dairy farm in the Free State province. The farm was meant to benefit the local community but prosecutors described it as a “scheme designed to defraud and steal”.

After the raids, eight people, several of whom have worked for Gupta firms, appeared in a South African court on charges including fraud.

Among the eight were Gupta nephew Varun Gupta, who was an executive director of the Guptas’ Shiva Uranium firm. Zuma’s son Duduzane was also a director at Shiva Uranium.

The three Gupta brothers have been accused of using their friendship with Zuma to influence policy and amass wealth. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Atul Gupta with Zuma at the Bidvest Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. Credit: GCIS South Africa

Ajay Gupta was declared “a fugitive from justice” by South Africa’s chief prosecutor last week after he failed to report to police investigating the missing dairy project funds.

A spokeswoman for Johannesburg’s main airport said Ajay Gupta left on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai on February 6.

“I cannot confirm if Mr Ajay Gupta is back in the country; he may well be back in the country through another port of entry,” Gunkel-Keuler said.

A spokesman for the elite Hawks police unit that targets organised crime and corruption said it had made contact with the Gupta family’s lawyers but not found Ajay. He said police were only searching for Ajay, not his brothers Atul or Rajesh.

South Africa has no extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which could complicate authorities’ efforts to question Ajay Gupta – if he stays in the Gulf.

A spokesman for the UAE embassy in South Africa was not available for comment.

Gunkel-Keuler said the airport would hand over all relevant information to the Hawks, which are formally known as the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Hunt for allies of Zuma goes overseas