Chris BishopBy Chris Bishop|June 7, 2022|4 Minutes|In Opinion


How entrepreneurs from hell grabbed $3.5 billion from Africans.

The breakfast tables of the continent will be buzzing this morning about the arrest of two brothers who used the cloak of being entrepreneurs to allegedly defraud African taxpayers of hundreds of millions of dollars before fleeing. 

Authorities in the United Arab Emirates arrested Rajesh and Atul Gupta – two of the three brothers – according to the South African government. The South Africans have been campaigning for years for the extradition of the brothers to face trial.

The Guptas made headlines in South Africa in the months before they flew out to the UAE. Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan stated, in 2016, that the Gupta brothers were involved in “suspicious transactions” worth a staggering R 6.8 billion – that’s about half a billion dollars of largely taxpayers’ money. More recent estimates put that figures as high as $3.5 billion.

All of this is wealth that emerging economies like South Africa can ill afford to lose.

The Guptas drew around then the cloak of honest entrepreneurs. They flew from India to South Africa with nothing, they said, because they believed in the African story. They started off selling computers from a rundown lock up garage, they said, pulling themselves up over 20 years to wield influence with a newspaper and TV station.

Yet it was the political influence they held that was to prove their undoing and the beggaring of the South African taxpayer.

The Guptas signed contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars on the back of the friendly support of a group of politicians and officials in the ruling party – the African National Congress. They included former President Jacob Zuma who spent 10 years in prison on Robben Island for his beliefs – yet seemed to forget about them when the moneybags Guptas came calling. Many of the contracts were half delivered or not at all.

The contract that made me sick to my guts was the project to bring cows and wealth to poor people in the Free State. An estimated $16 million was siphoned off the contract – allegedly to pay for a gaudy Gupta family wedding at Sun City.

Revolting. The poor people of the Free State are as bereft and hungry as they were the day the contract – that never was – was signed .

A string of dodgy Gupta contracts was exposed in the Zondo Commission on corruption, that began in 2018. The commission heard also that the brothers had influence over the appointment of ministers and officials to ease their business ambitions .

The arrests could be a boost for President Cyril Ramaphosa who promised to clean up South Africa after a lost decade of corruption. He has said all the right things, but action, up to now, has been at a snail’s pace.

For entrepreneurs, it could also spell good news. Clamping down on corruption is always good for certainty and transparency that encourages confidence in business.

The Guptas always protested their innocence and demanded their day in court. It is good that they could soon get it – whether they like it or not.

For the liberal politicians who turned a blind eye – or open pocket – to what was going on. Did you really come so far and pay so much – through prison and struggle – for so little?