Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency/ANA

Johannesburg - Justice Minister Michael Masutha said Wednesday South Africa had penned extradition treaties with the United Arab Emirates, a move that could pave the way for the forced return to the country of the Guptas, wealthy businessmen implicated in massive state corruption.

Masutha and his UAE counterpart, Sultan Saeed Al Badi, signed the treaties on "extradition and mutual legal assistance in criminal matters in Abu Dhabi" on Tuesday, the government said in a statement.

"The treaties will enable the two countries to assist each other in the investigation and prosecution of crimes through mutual legal assistance and the extradition of fugitives," it added.

One of the three Gupta brothers, Ajay, who now lives in Dubai, has been declared a  "fugitive from justice" and is being sought by South African police over alleged graft.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers, who are among South Africa's richest people, are being investigated by police over corruption allegations. 

A public inquiry opened last month into alleged corruption under scandal-tainted former president Jacob Zuma, who is accused of overseeing widespread graft during his nine-year reign.

The brothers are at the centre of the probe.

The investigation is looking into allegations that Zuma organised the systematic plunder of government coffers by the Guptas and allowed them to choose ministers in a scandal known as "state capture".

A former minister, a government and ex-ANC lawmaker have given damning testimonies against the Guptas at the inquiry.

Two of the brothers said they wanted to answer those allegations, but on condition they give their evidence from Dubai via video link because they feared being arrested.

But the commission's chief, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo rejected their application to participate in the inquiry from abroad. 

In April UAE authorities arrested a South African man after he filmed Ajay Gupta in Dubai and posted the clip on social media.  He was freed a few hours later.

South Africa said the extradition talks with the UAE have been in the making for the past eight years.

Indian tax officials are also investigating the Gupta brothers in their former home town, as part of a money laundering probe.

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