We would be more ‘shocked’ if the Guptas were returned to SA and justice was served

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By Howard Feldman

A word of caution. The following is likely to contain an unacceptable number of mixed metaphors. There is a high probability that concepts of “match fixing,” of “own goals” and of rotten fish will be mixed into the “Gupta” story when we consider how South Africa seemed to have “dropped the ball” (here we go) in what is arguably the most significant match of the season.

Because when it comes to the Gupta extradition, something is unquestionable offsides.

Consider that until last week, we are expected to believe that the South African authorities believed that the Gupta brothers were incarcerated in Dubai. Consider that this is likely the most significant political criminal story of the country’s history (at least recent history), and that the taxpayer has spent billions of rands in commissions that exposed the looting in almost pornographic gratuitous detail. Consider that the Guptas are believed to sit at the very top of the scheme that defrauded the country to such an extent that recovery will unlikely be seen for decades.

And then convince me again that “oops, we thought we had this, but then gosh, we didn’t”. And that no one told us any of this since February?

South Africans are gullible. We are naïve and we are trusting. But we are not idiots. Not anymore.

If you missed season one of the Guptas, here is a recap. Atul and Rajesh Gupta are accused in South Africa of profiting from their close links with former President Jacob Zuma and exerting unfair influence.

The brothers, who deny any wrongdoing, fled after a judicial commission began probing a major corruption scandal. The Indian-born Guptas were arrested in the UAE last June and extradition talks with South Africa began.

But the UAE said that it turned down the extradition request on a technicality. In a brief statement, quoted in the Emirates News Agency, it said that a review “found that the request did not meet the strict standards for legal documentation as outlined in the extradition agreement between the UAE and South Africa” which came into force two years ago.

Apparently, some of the paperwork was either incorrect, in the case of the fraud charge, or missing, in the case of the corruption charge, the statement adds.

The decision was made in February, but it was only communicated to South Africa on Thursday, South African Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said.

Right. And Hansie Cronje was never involved in match fixing.

Whereas the justice ministry said it had learnt with “shock and dismay” about the move, there is a good chance that South Africans do not share this emotion. I suspect that they would be more “shocked” if the Guptas ever were returned to South Africa and if justice was ever served. Instead, there will no doubt be a whole bunch of prosecutions so far down the political chain that no one close to the senior political players or close to the Guptas will be impacted.

The fact that South Africa claims to have not known about the failure of the extradition application since February, means one of two things: it is either a lie or it indicates gross incompetence. A lie is simple to explain and there is very good reason why people might suspect that. In some ways the incompetence option is worse.

That they would have failed to follow up on the largest case in the country’s history since February; that they have failed to lodge the application correctly; and they were unaware that the Guptas had long left the area, in my mind is worse. I would rather accept that there has been a cover up and that the match was deliberately thrown.

Why? Because it means there is a chance we might choose to win the next one.