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Gupta brothers are still South African citizens: Motsoaledi

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Johannesburg: The South African government said on Friday that fugitive businessmen Rajesh and Atul Gupta are still its citizens using the country’s passports amid reports that Indian-origin brothers have acquired Vanuatu’s citizenship.

South Africa said last week said that the UAE has turned down its request to extradite the two to face trial in the country on fraud and corruption charges.

The three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh are wanted in South Africa for their alleged roles in the looting of billions of rands from state enterprises. They are alleged to have used their closeness to former President Jacob Zuma to do this.

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The family fled to Dubai five years ago as the net closed in on them following Zuma’s ousting by his own African National Congress when he refused to step down.

“The Guptas are using South African passports, I just can’t tell when, because when you are a South African passport (holder) away from us, we won’t know. Our movement control system doesn’t show if you crossed into China (or anywhere else). It doesn’t show,” Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

The minister was reacting to media reports that the Guptas were now citizens of Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean east of Australia.

Last week South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said his government was “shocked and dismayed” after the UAE declined the request to extradite the Gupta brothers to face trial in South Africa on fraud and corruption charges.

Motsoaledi said the Guptas had acquired their passports irregularly from a corrupt home affairs official against whom action had been taken.

But the Department has no plans yet to cancel their passports or revoke the citizenship of the Guptas as an appeal to the UAE on the extradition request would then be meaningless, Motsoaledi said,

“We can’t take back the passport before we take away the citizenship. We have to start there. We are chasing them because we believe they belong to us. So, if we take away that citizenship, do we still have any rights?” the minister said.

A report in the Vanuatu Daily Post said Vanuatu’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) had advised Vanuatu’s Citizenship Office on the hostile information against the corruption-accused fugitive brothers on two separate occasions in 2018.

The Daily said the Vanuatu Citizenship Office and the Department of Immigration have declined to confirm or deny whether the Guptas are currently residing in Vanuatu.

Previous reports indicated that the Guptas were seeking asylum in the African nations of Cameroon and the Central African Republic.

Originally from Saharanpur in India, the Guptas built an empire in the IT, media and mining industries after first arriving in the country to start a shoe shop soon after Nelson Mandela was released from 27 years as a political prisoner to become the first democratically-elected president.

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( With inputs from www.siasat.com )

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