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Remember the euphoria that gripped SA back in 2004 when we won the Soccer World Cup?
No? Well, I take that back — we’ve never won anything of significance, besides the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations, when we defeated Tunisia 2-0.
Still, we celebrated in 2004 when then Fifa president Sepp Blatter pulled out a card emblazoned with the words “South Africa”, revealing the rainbow nation would host the 2010 World Cup. And that’s surely the closest we’ll ever get to winning the damn thing.
But it’s that sense of euphoria that is reverberating across the country in the aftermath of news that two of the three Gupta brothers, Tony (Rajesh) and Atul, have been arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The arrest isn’t even the main event, of course — that would be a successful prosecution. But rather like hosting the World Cup, the arrests are something nonetheless.
There is still much that has to happen before the Guptas face justice. SA will have to jump through various legal and diplomatic hoops to have the brothers extradited to this country to stand trial.
Expect a lot of resistance — thanks to their adventures in SA, the Guptas aren’t cash-shy and will try every trick in the book to avoid being extradited.
But the problem for them is the global nature of their alleged crimes of money laundering and racketeering. Since some of the transactions they were allegedly involved in were denominated in dollars, it has triggered the interest of the US authorities.
A case in point is the purchase and kickbacks linked to Transnet’s R50bn purchase of trains from China South Rail in 2014. Transnet paid more than R600m in “consultancy fees” to companies for that deal, at least some of which is alleged to have landed in the Guptas’ pockets. Some of the family’s lieutenants own property bought with that cash, which may well have been paid for in dollars.
Even if extradition to SA — as desirable as it is — takes longer than expected, this now makes the prospect of the brothers escaping justice more remote. Ajay, the eldest brother, has yet to be located, but he’ll surely be quaking in his boots.
In SA, the family’s facilitators will also be sleeping uneasily. In particular, Mzwanele Manyi, who inherited the Guptas’ New Age newspaper and ANN7 television network when they fled, should be worried. So should Duduzane Zuma, son of former president Jacob Zuma, who at one stage was a director of 11 Gupta companies, including Shiva Uranium.
Many of the former executives of state-owned companies — including Transnet, Eskom and the Passenger Rail Agency of SA (Prasa) — will also fret that the brothers might not hesitate to rat them out in the hope of securing lighter sentences.
But if there’s one person who will savour the moment, it is President Cyril Ramaphosa, for whom these arrests couldn’t have come at a better time. Ramaphosa has plenty of explaining to do after the revelation that millions of dollars were stolen from his Limpopo farm in a theft that wasn’t reported to the police.
The arrests of Atul and Tony Gupta are a welcome reprieve for him, and will bolster his narrative of reconstruction and reform at precisely the right time.
Another whose stock will rise in the aftermath of the arrests is national director of public prosecutions Shamila Batohi. Perhaps it’ll finally embolden her to face the media, and maybe even gloat a bit.
And justice minister Ronald Lamola may even bask in the reflected glow for the international co-operation that led to this moment, and the recent efforts to ensure the UAE and SA signed an extradition treaty.
When the Guptas finally do land back in this country — though at OR Tambo, and not at Waterkloof, where their wedding party landed — it will ignite a spirit similar to the “feel it” goosebumps of those heady days back in 2010, when the World Cup tournament kicked off.
On the field, of course, Bafana Bafana weren’t able to get out of first gear at the time. But in this case, if our prosecutors are finally able to put together the pieces of the state capture puzzle in a way that ensures the conviction of the brothers and their lieutenants, even if that takes years, it will feel as if we’d won the cup after all.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.