Tensions between SA and UAE despite extradition signing
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TENSIONS seem stiff between South Africa and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) despite them finalising a deal to assist each other with extradition and legal evidence of those accused of looting the state coffers.
As the inquiry into state capture draws to a close after hearing explosive evidence of how the Gupta brothers and their associates allegedly made off with billions of South Africa’s money, the pressure is mounting on the government to hold them to account.
While the ratification of the treaties on extradition and mutual legal assistance was welcomed this week, National Director of Public Prosecutions Advocate Shamila Batohi said they would only accept that there was cooperation from the UAE once they received the evidence they had been requesting for over three years.
According to Batohi, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had been requesting financial evidence such as bank statements and records of the Gupta family and their associates for over three years without any success.
“The ratification of the treaties is a positive development but we will only know if this is making a difference once our request for mutual legal assistance was fully executed by the UAE and we get the necessary evidence,” she said.
Batohi was speaking during yesterday’s media briefing held by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
Lamola and Batohi met with the UAE ambassador Mahash Saeed Alhameli on Thursday following the announcement on the ratification of the treaties made by Alhameli’s office earlier in the week.
According to a source, who asked not to be named, the SA government were peeved that Alhameli’s office made the announcement before them.
On whether the ratification of the treaties would fast-track bringing the Gupta’s to answer for their alleged wrongdoing, Batohi said: “The treaty doesn’t really change anything, but in the spirit of cooperation, we hope there is a change and positive response to or requests as soon as possible.”
Lamola said they did expect cooperation from the UAE going forward “because it was a commitment we received from the ambassador”.
Alhameli declined to be interviewed “to maintain a good diplomatic relationship”.
“We appreciate the position of South Africa regarding their need for information and it was necessary to reach the completion of the treaty procedures. Both parties need each other,” Alhameli told Independent Media on Friday.
While the treaties have been widely welcomed, Batohi said this did not necessarily mean the Guptas would be on the next flight to South Africa.
She said an exact timeline could not be put on the extradition processes but “it will take some time”.
Batohi explained that, in general, once the suspects were arrested abroad, legal processes would have to take place in that country first.
Then a political process would follow where the country’s executive would decide if they will surrender the suspects to South Africa for prosecution.
“It depends on political will,” Batohi said.
South Africa and the UAE began negotiating the treaties in February 2010 and the agreement between the two nations was entered into in September 2018.
The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services at the time, Advocate Michael Masutha, and his UAE counterpart, Sultan Saeed Al Badi, signed the treaties in Abu Dhabi.
Within two months of entering into the agreement, South Africa ratified the treaties.
“In essence, the ratification by the UAE concludes a 10 year process,” Lamola said.
The treaties will come into effect 30 days after the ratification instruments have been exchanged, which is July 10, 2021.