Ramaphosa must intervene in extradition co-operation
A YEAR ago Dubai Police, in co-operation with the FBI, arrested a transnational cyber scam gang living in the UAE. They tracked the Nigerian gang leader through his Instagram account, “Hushpuppi”, and extradited him to the US to face criminal charges for alleged money laundering.
The UAE and South Africa finally ratified an extradition treaty in June after 11 years of trying. What chance of a similar joint operation between Dubai Police and the Hawks, in nabbing the Gupta sibling troika – Ajay, Rajesh and Atul, and their sidekick Salim Essa, and returning them from their emirate refuge to face charges of alleged corruption in South Africa?
The fact that they fled suggests they either distrust South African justice or they have something to hide.
After all, there is an Interpol Red Notice for their arrest. In April, the UK government put all four on its sanctions list, including asset freezes and travel bans under its Global Corruption Sanctions Regime.
This follows similar action imposed on the “fugitive four” by the US Treasury in October 2019 who it said were members of a “significant corruption network” in South Africa.
The UAE’s obfuscation in co-operating with Pretoria in bringing the four to face charges is not surprising. The two sides have been negotiating the extradition accord since February 2010. It was finally signed in September 2018. While the South African Parliament ratified the treaty two months later in November 2018, it has taken the UAE almost three years to do the
same. So much for the UAE’s diplomatic rhetoric that relations between the two countries can only progress on the basis of “co-operation”.
Dubai, with its entrepot ambition, has had its share of high-profile fraud and financial scandals. Dubai Islamic Bank, for instance was the victim of two such frauds – a $501m scam in 2009 and a $200m one in 2004 when the then general manager claimed that the perpetrators had cast a “Black Magic” spell on him to part with the funds.
Then there was the $400m metals trade fraud in 2005 perpetrated by the owner of Solo Industries defrauding a staggering 26 banks – including global majors, supposedly with sophisticated trade finance operations. No market or country is immune from such activities.
The spectre of the Dubai Police chief publicly castigating the then governor of the UAE Central Bank for dereliction of duty and failing to properly regulate the financial sector was a sight to behold and revealing.
Dubai is perceived, rightly or wrongly, as a “safe refuge” for mafia dons especially from the Indian
sub-continent. There is a running joke among expats that Dubai is a haven for all sorts of dons: “They don’t care what you did outside. They like you spending money inside. But if you try to do something bad in the country they will come down like a ton of bricks.”
Abu Dhabi and Dubai, authoritarian absolute monarchies, try to punch way above their weight especially in foreign policy – interference in Yemen, the spat with Qatar (now resolved), arming the rebel commander in Libya, “normalising” relations with Israel to the chagrin of most of the Muslim world; and strong support for the Hindu nationalist regime of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, largely in collusion with the Trump administration.
The fact that the extradition treaty only comes into effect on July 10 suggests that Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and National Director of Public Prosecutions Shamila Batohi have their work cut out for them. They need to put more pressure on the UAE authorities directly or indirectly. Lamola’s frustration at the procrastination of UAE officials and their lack of urgency was evident at his briefing following the exchange of extradition documents on June 10.
“South Africa has persons of interest who frequent the UAE and are believed to be there. Our request for mutual legal assistance to the UAE, to date, was not prohibited by the fact that there were no treaties in force between the two states. All of our requests were sent in terms of Article 44 of the UN Convention against Corruption,” he said. Both countries are signatories to the convention.
That grace period of a month could well tempt the “fugitive four” to engineer a dramatic disappearance. Assuming they still are in Dubai, the Interpol Red Notice, boosted by the US and UK Sanctions Regimes, should suffice for the UAE authorities to put them on restricted movement and surveillance. Failing that, this episode has the potential to seriously damage UAE-South African relations.
If co-operation on the Guptas remains sluggish and in the words of Minister Lamola “unfulfilled”, this is where President Cyril Ramaphosa needs to step in. As one of the invited special guests at the recent G7 Summit in Carbis Bay in Cornwall, he needs to leverage the goodwill he mustered.
A gentle request to US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to impart some diplomatic pressure on Dubai and Abu Dhabi, as the paymaster of the UAE Federation, would suffice. Their security and hold on power are beholden to the US and UK. Hence that joint FBI/Dubai Police operation against the cyber fraudsters, because US companies and citizens were among the victims.
Washington and London were quick to respond by putting the “fugitive four” on their sanctions regimes. What a boost it would be for the UN Convention against Corruption and Global Corruption Sanctions Regime if such transnational co-operation brought them to justice. South Africans would be so grateful.