Johannesburg (AFP) – A politically-connected business dynasty that moved to South Africa from India, the Gupta family finds itself at the centre of many of the scandals that have dogged President Jacob Zuma’s administration.
A day after the ruling ANC ordered Zuma out of office, the Guptas’ prominent role in his presidency was highlighted on Wednesday as elite crime-busters raided the family’s mansion in Johannesburg.
– Who are the Guptas? –
The family is headed by Ajay, Atul and Rajesh (“Tony”) Gupta, three brothers from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Led by Atul, they arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country’s first democratic elections.
As the country opened up to foreign investment, the Guptas — previously small-scale businessmen in India — built a sprawling empire involved in computers, mining, media, technology and engineering.
The New Age, an ardently pro-Zuma newspaper, was launched in 2010, and the 24-hour news channel ANN7 took to the airwaves in 2013 with a similar editorial slant.
They had developed close links with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party focussing particularly on Zuma, well before he became president in 2009.
– What ties the Guptas to Zuma? –
Zuma’s son Duduzane was a director of the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers, named after their hometown of Saharanpur, and has been involved with several of the family’s other companies.
Zuma’s third wife Bongi Ngema and one of his daughters have also been in the employ of the Guptas.
Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas claimed in March 2015 that the Guptas had offered him the post of finance minister, in return for obeying the family’s instructions — for which he would allegedly be paid 600 million rand ($50 million).
Backbench ANC lawmaker David van Rooyen was then revealed to have visited the Guptas’ home the night before his brief appointment as finance minister on December 9, 2015.
Both the Guptas and Zuma, who has described the brothers as friends, deny any wrongdoing.
– Tied in knots –
Perhaps one of the most colourful Gupta-linked incidents related to a family wedding in 2013.
Public anger erupted after it was revealed that a jet carrying 217 foreign guests to a Gupta wedding landed at Waterkloof Air Force base, outside Pretoria.
The airport is a military facility normally used for receiving heads of state.
It appeared that Zuma, who was the guest of honour, had tacitly approved the decision, which breached air force and customs and immigration rules.
There were also allegations that the law was broken when the guests were given a police “blue light” escort.
– What about their businesses? –
The Gupta business empire has been repeatedly accused of securing deals with South Africa’s giant state-owned companies on wildly favourable terms.
South Africa’s ethics watchdog, the Public Protector, published a damning report in October 2016, finding that the state-owned electricity monopoly had awarded a massive coal order to a then-Gupta linked business at well above market prices.
The report also alleged that former mining minister Mosebenzi Zwane “travelled to Switzerland with the Guptas to help them seal the deal” to buy a struggling coal mine.
The family is mentioned 232 times in the report, entitled “State of Capture” because of the influence that the Guptas are alleged to have exerted on some branches of the state.
– What now? –
In recent years, major banks have withdrawn their facilities to the Gupta family, complicating the payment of salaries to staff and the day-to-day running of a complex, cash-intensive business empire.
India’s Bank of Baroda, thought to be the last major bank to continue its relationship with the Guptas in South Africa, recently announced it would withdraw from the country, effectively ending its association with the controversial family.
They also face the prospect of a judge-led inquiry into their business dealings, as recommended by the public protector’s report.
– Life after South Africa? –
One of the biggest scandals in South Africa is over a scheme that allegedly siphoned millions of dollars from a black-empowerment agriculture project.
Further arrests in this case could spell the end for the family’s foothold in South Africa, commentators predict. Since pressure began to mount on the Guptas, they have been reported to be moving their base to Dubai.