India denies bail to Ajay Gupta, linked to S.Africa graft, after builder death

Ajay Gupta. File Image

Ajay Gupta. File Image

Published Jun 10, 2024


An Indian court has refused bail to a member of the Gupta family, linked to orchestrating industrial-scale corruption in South Africa, in connection with allegedly abetting the suicide of a businessman.

The Indian-born Gupta brothers -- Atul, Ajay and Rajesh -- built a sprawling business empire in South Africa after moving there in 1993 as the country opened up to foreign investment when white-minority rule crumbled.

Last month, 58-year-old Ajay Gupta and another family member, Anil Gupta, were arrested in Dehradun, the capital of Uttarakhand state.

The case concerns the death of Satinder Singh Sawhney, a 52-year-old building developer working on housing projects with the Guptas.

His corpse was found at the bottom of an apartment block on May 24.

Sawhney's son said he left a suicide note in which he accused the two men of threatening him.

The Times of India quoted director of prosecution Girish Pancholi as saying that Sawhney had accused Ajay and Anil Gupta of having "forced him to commit suicide" after filing "fake cases against him".

The two Guptas were detained the next day, with their "weak" bail application denied on Friday, the order from Dehradun's district court read.

"Anil Gupta and Ajay Gupta can approach the high court, but the case is so serious that it will be difficult for them to secure bail," government lawyer Guru Prasad Raturi told AFP Sunday.

In 2018, South African investigators said the Guptas colluded with ex-president Jacob Zuma to siphon off state assets under a system that, according to one estimate, cost several billion dollars.

The two younger brothers, Atul and Rajesh fled to the United Arab Emirates.

Last year, a Dubai court ruled against extraditing them to Pretoria on a technicality.

Ajay was declared a fugitive from justice in 2018, but South African authorities dropped the charges against him the next year.

A spokesperson for the South African justice ministry, Chrispin Phiri, told AFP on Sunday that Ajay was not the subject of an Interpol Red Notice –- a measure that informs Interpol member states of arrest warrants issued in other countries -- unlike the younger brothers.

"Our Red Notice was for Atul and Rajesh Gupta. Whilst Ajay is indeed one of the Gupta brothers, he was not listed on the Red Notice sent to Interpol," he said, adding that Atul and Rajesh were most recently reported to still be in the UAE.

"As we understand it, if they move to any other country which is under the jurisdiction of Interpol, Interpol are obliged to inform us and the 'host' nation."

Zuma was forced out of office as president and leader of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2018 under a cloud of corruption allegations.

But this month Zuma won almost 15 percent of the vote in general elections, fronting the recently formed uMkhonto weSizwe (MK) party, helping strip the ANC of its three-decade-old absolute majority.