U.S. President Joe Biden launched a new initiative last month to focus the government on the fight against corruption, a struggle he called “essential to the preservation of our democracy and our future.” The stakes are indeed high, and Biden was right to commit to working with partners abroad, because stopping graft in one country often depends on other nations lending a hand.
Nowhere is this dynamic clearer than in South Africa, where a broad effort to end a sordid chapter of official corruption has led to former President Jacob Zuma being jailed for refusing to testify on the matter. A key piece of the country’s reckoning depends, though, on whether its partners from the United Arab Emirates to the United States will act to help bring justice in another high-profile corruption case—one that highlights the importance and elusiveness of international cooperation.
The same day Biden announced his anti-corruption initiative, South African law enforcement officials brought long-anticipated charges for fraud and money laundering against members of the notorious Gupta family. Allegations against the Guptas by investigative journalists and whistleblowers helped prompt the 2018 creation of South Africa’s commission of inquiry into “state capture,” the decadelong period of grand corruption in which the country’s top leaders ceded control over state resources to private business interests and subverted institutions charged with keeping the government accountable.
That commission is now preparing its findings and recommendations—without the testimony that Zuma and the Guptas have refused to provide. Nevertheless, its success in shedding further light on abuses of the public trust represents a major achievement.
Ending this kind of corruption, however, will require South Africa to go beyond establishing a historical record; it must hold individuals to account, including through criminal prosecution. But Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh Gupta—three brothers and businessmen with a global web of financial ties who allegedly manipulated the South African state for their personal benefit—fled to Dubai after the fall of Zuma and their other political patrons in 2018.
By David Lewis and Michael F. Breen, July 16, 2021, Published on Foreign Policy