By: Shubham Ghosh
Atul and Rajesh Gupta, the Indian-origin brothers accused of corruption in South Africa, are citizens of the Pacific Ocean archipelago of Vanuatu, its citizenship commission has confirmed, according to Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
In a statement, chairman of the commission Robin Kapapa said that Vanuatu does not intend to revoke the Guptas’ citizenship status unless they are convicted. The statement was cited in local media, according to OCCRP.
He said there is inadequate evidence currently to support the need for the brothers’ citizenship to be cancelled.
Atul and Rajesh, who fled the African country in 2018 shortly after former president Jacob Zuma fell from power, were arrested in Dubai, UAE, last year. They are currently claimed to be in its custody while a probe is underway into their activities.
The South African authorities, who had been trying to extradite the duo, received a blow in April as the UAE dismissed its request.
The Gupta family went to South Africa from the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in the early 1990s and started as computer retailers. They gradually built a big business empire in various sectors, including mining and technology, media, energy production and defence.
The brothers were accused of using bribes to secure access to lucrative state contracts and influence over the country’s politics when Zuma was in power between 2009 and 2018.
Investigations later showed that the Guptas even manipulated the former president’s ministerial appointments to serve their own interests.
Kapapa also said that the Gupta brothers became citizens of Vanuatu under the country’s Economic Citizenship Programme in 2019 upon declaring their innocence, OCCRP said.
Under Vanuatu’s citizenship-by-investment scheme, foreigners can buy a Vanuatu passport for US$130,000 (£103,145) with very little restrictions. The scheme was launched in 2017.
The Guardian reported in July 2021 that a list of more than 2,000 individuals who had become citizens of Vanuatu under the scheme since early 2020 included a number of wanted criminals, such as the Cajee brothers of South Africa who allegedly stole $3.6 billion (£2.85 billion) in cryptocurrency.