Ajay Gupta, probed over Zuma ties, leaves South Africa for Dubai

A police van and uniformed and plain clothes police officers are seen inside the compound of the controversial business family Gupta in South Africa, on Feb 14, 2018.
A police van and uniformed and plain clothes police officers are seen inside the compound of the controversial business family Gupta in South Africa, on Feb 14, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

JOHANNESBURG • Ajay Gupta, one of three brothers under investigation over accusations of corrupt links to ousted South African president Jacob Zuma, left the country for Dubai 12 days ago, a Johannesburg airport spokesman has said.

The brothers, accused by the public anti-graft watchdog of using their friendship with Mr Zuma to influence policy and amass wealth, have denied any wrongdoing, as has Mr Zuma.

Ajay Gupta was declared "a fugitive from justice" by South Africa's chief prosecutor last week after he failed to report to police investigating allegations that millions of dollars of public money intended for a state-backed dairy project had been siphoned off.

Ms Leigh Gunkel-Keuler, a spokesman for Johannesburg's main airport, on Friday said Gupta was on an Emirates flight bound for Dubai on Feb 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," Ms 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 yet located Ajay.

He said police were searching for Ajay, not his brothers Atul or Rajesh, contrary to some domestic media reports.

A lawyer who used to represent the Guptas told Reuters his mandate to work for the family had recently been suspended. Other lawyers authorised to speak for the Guptas could not immediately be located for comment.

South Africa has no extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates (UAE), where Dubai is located, and this could complicate the South African authorities' efforts to question Ajay Gupta if he remained in the Gulf state.

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

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

Earlier last week, the Hawks 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. Mr Zuma's son Duduzane was also a director at Shiva Uranium.

The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, wants the dairy project inquiry widened to include Mining Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, an ally of Mr Zuma, who worked at the Free State's agriculture department when the farm funds were diverted.

Mr Zwane denied wrongdoing when asked about the project.

Relations between the Guptas and Mr Zuma, who resigned last Wednesday after being instructed to do so by the ruling African National Congress, are the focus of a separate judicial inquiry into high-level state corruption.

A top judge will investigate whether the Guptas sought to influence the appointment of Cabinet ministers and were unlawfully awarded state tenders. Mr Zuma's spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 18, 2018, with the headline 'Ajay Gupta, probed over Zuma ties, leaves S. Africa for Dubai'. Print Edition | Subscribe