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Interpol Issues Red Notices for Gupta Brothers Wanted in South Africa

FILE - People walk on the Interpol logo at the international police agency headquarters in Lyon, central France, Nov. 8, 2018.
FILE - People walk on the Interpol logo at the international police agency headquarters in Lyon, central France, Nov. 8, 2018.

South Africa said this week the International Criminal Police Organization, Interpol, has requested countries seek out and arrest Rajesh and Atul Gupta, two brothers and businessmen who allegedly bribed top officials, including former president Jacob Zuma, to gain lucrative government contracts.

South African anti-corruption activists have accused the Guptas of "state capture," a term meant to describe the brothers' strong influence over former president Zuma and members of his Cabinet — influence that allegedly extended to contracts, policy and personnel choices.

While there are many allegations against the Guptas, the red notices — requests to member nations to arrest — were issued for a case involving a relatively small $1.5 million pertaining to procurement fraud.

South Africa's National Prosecuting Authority requested the red notices last year, but Rajesh and Atul Guptas' lawyers objected. The application had to be reviewed by Interpol to make sure, among other things, that there was no political bias.

Interpol's ambassador for the Turn Back Crime Campaign, Andy Mashaile, said South Africa also took time to secure an extradition treaty with the United Arab Emirates, as it's believed the brothers are in Dubai.

"You can then go to Interpol Dubai and say: 'Interpol Dubai, we know this is the place where the guys are living, this is the street name and the street number, this is how they look, these are their images. Please help us get these people in your detention center or in your cell, in jail until we are able to fetch them from Dubai,'" Mashaile said.

Interpol has 194 member countries and, while red notices do not compel them to execute arrests, the notices do help in tracking the whereabouts of suspects or fugitives. Their photographs are posted on all local law enforcement systems.

Political analyst Sanusha Naidu of the Institute for Global Dialogue said the red notices could help the 2024 reelection campaign of South Africa's president, Cyril Ramaphosa, because it shows he is taking action against corruption.

"But I think what it also suggests is that at an international level, you know, getting the international community and, in particular, Interpol to also take a stance and align with the position that Ramaphosa has," Naidu said. "So, I think in terms of him moving forward and trying to say to the South African public, I'm doing what I have to do. I'm working around this, I'm moving the needle on this."

However, Naidu said she's not sure it's enough to redeem the African National Congress, which has steadily been losing support at the polls because of rampant corruption and failure to deliver basic services.

"I think if you want to talk about what ordinary South Africans want, they want to see the judicial system take its natural course," she said. "But the question also is all the money that's been taken from the country, how does that come back? Because if you think about it, that's where part of the challenge lies."

News of the red notices broke a day before the release of the third report from the Inquiry into State Capture. It called for the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate Zuma. The former president refused to appear before the inquiry and was jailed for 15 months after defying a court order to do so. However, he was let out on medical parole soon after.