For years, brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta were ranked among South Africa’s most prominent businessmen and socialized with the ruling elite, including their friend, then-President Jacob Zuma.
They weathered accusations that they’d exploited their political connections to land an aircraft at a high-security military base to ferry guests to a private wedding, installed their allies in key positions at state companies, tried to influence cabinet appointments and looted billions of rand of taxpayer funds. Law enforcement agencies took no visible action against them, saying only that investigations were ongoing.
That all changed on Feb. 14, when Zuma quit as president under pressure from the ruling African National Congress the same day the police’s Hawks investigative unit staged a dawn raid on the Guptas’ sprawling luxury estate in Johannesburg’s Saxonwold suburb. Some of their top lieutenants were arrested and the eldest brother, Ajay, was declared a fugitive.
The timing of the two events was no coincidence, according to Mark Swilling, a professor at Stellenbosch University who convened an academics’ study last year that concluded that the Zumas, the Guptas and their allies had orchestrated “a silent coup.”
“There is a multi-pronged attack on the Zuma-Gupta network,” Swilling said. “One of these was a political attack launched from within the ANC to get rid of Zuma as the linchpin of that power elite. Linked to that is another set of actions initiated by the criminal justice system to nail the Guptas.”
The Guptas arrived in South Africa from India in the early 1990s and built up a business empire with interests ranging from mining to pay television. They acquired a private jet and mansions from Cape Town to Dubai. Their business partners included Zuma’s son, Duduzane, and they employed one of his four wives.
The Guptas became household names in South Africa in 2013 when they secured access to the Waterkloof airforce base for their wedding guests.
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