JOHANNESBURG: A South African court on Friday froze the assets of the controversial Indian-origin Gupta family and their associate, Iqbal Meer Sharma, which included palatial homes in upmarket areas.
On Thursday, the Investigating Directorate (ID) of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) of South Africa asked Interpol to issue Red Notice International Arrest Warrants for Atul Gupta and Rajesh Gupta, and their wives Chetali and Arti.
Meer Sharma, one of their close associates, is spending the weekend in jail, along with with a senior official of the Provincial Free State Government, pending a bail application on Monday.
An ID spokesperson, Sindisiwe Seboka, earlier said they have a strong case against the Guptas and Sharma involving fraud and corruption to the tune of more than 12 million South African rand.
The Guptas, accused of siphoning billions of rand from state and parastatal institutions, are believed to be in self-exile in Dubai, with reports that some family members are in India.
South Africa has sent extradition papers to both India and the UAE, although it has no extradition treaty with the UAE.
The wanted four members of the Gupta family are the owners of the company, Islandsite, against which the High Court order was granted on Friday.
“Leave is granted to institute asset forfeiture proceedings against Islandsite and the property of Islandsite,” read the order, which Seboka confirmed applied to assets, including all properties in South Africa belonging to Islandsite.
The court has appointed a curator who will take charge of the assets pending the outcome of criminal charges for fraud and money laundering offences instituted against the Guptas, their company Islandsite, Sharma and his company Nulane.
“The freezing order, granted in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act, will be served on Iqbal Sharma at the Bloemfontein Bainsvlei (police) holding cells, while Islandsite will be served at its local business address,” Seboka said.
Should they be found guilty, the assets concerned will be forfeited to the state.
The properties of the Guptas that are part of the order, include a 21 million rand mansion in the elite suburb of Constantia in Cape Town and a 12 million rand estate in Johannesburg.
Sharma’s assets, include his residence in the upmarket suburb of Sandton in Johannesburg valued at more than 12 million rand that the ID said is owned through a UAE-registered company, Issar Global, as well as other assets worth around 1.8 million rand.
The Gupta family arrived from Saharanpur in India in the 1990’s as democracy dawned with the release of anti-apartheid revolutionary Nelson Mandela.
The Guptas grew their business from a humble retail shoe store to a vast empire spanning information technology, mining and media.
There have been widespread allegations, including by witnesses at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, that the Gupta brothers used their closeness to former president Jacob Zuma to carry out a wide range of irregular deals totalling billions of rand.
Source: Press Trust of India