Lack of conclusive evidence was the reason South African authorities decided to drop the arrest warrant against India-born businessman Ajay Gupta, a close aide of scandal-hit former president Jacob Zuma, an official has said.
The National Prosecution Authority (NPA) decided on Thursday to scrap the arrest warrant issued last February for Ajay, who was considered a “fugitive from justice” after leaving for Dubai a year ago.
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.
But with reports that Jonas himself is now uncertain whether it was Ajay or Rajesh Gupta who had made the alleged offer, the NPA has withdrawn the charge, leaving Ajay free to return to South Africa. Although there was no word from him or his legal representatives on when and whether he would do so.
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, who have consistently denied the charges and have sought a right of reply.
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 would return to the Commission to clear his name and that of his family.
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 empire to other sectors.
The Gupta family 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 three 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.
The Gupta brothers have been accused of wielding enormous political influence in South Africa, with critics alleging that they have tried to “capture the state” to advance their own business interests.
Zuma’s links to the Guptas are one of the reasons he resigned before the 2019 general election. The Guptas and Zuma have denied all allegations of wrongdoing.