SOUTH Africa’s central bank has seized more than $1.3 million from a bank account of the now-abandoned Gupta family-owned Sahara Computers, which was one of the country’s leading IT suppliers.
Last Wednesday, the government gazette published notice by Reserve Bank deputy governor Kuben Naidoo for the forfeiture of the money and any interest accrued from Sahara’s Nedbank account and its deposit into the National Revenue Fund, according to a report in Times Live newspaper.
‘The South Africa Reserve Bank (SARB) has seized 19.7 million Rand (about $1.3 million) from the Gupta-owned Sahara Computers’ South Africa bank account,’ it said.
Sahara Computers was the first major IT company started by the three Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul, and Rajesh, who are originally from Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur after they settled in South Africa at the dawn of democracy under Nelson Mandela in the 1990s.
Sahara Computers, at the height of its success, was one of South Africa’s leading IT suppliers, with naming rights at the top three cricket stadiums in the country and leading sport and entertainment personalities as brand ambassadors.
The family is now in self-exile in Dubai as South Africa continues extradition efforts for questioning in their alleged role in state capture involving billions of South African Rands from state-owned institutions.
In 2016, as details of irregular dealings emerged, all South African banks refused to deal further with the Gupta family businesses, which had extended to mining and media as well by then.
The Guptas turned to the local branch of the Bank of Baroda, which was also eventually shut down, reportedly because the Indian bank was downscaling its global footprint.
The Guptas are alleged to have been part of the looting of billions of Rands through their close association with former president Jacob Zuma, who is himself facing criminal charges.
Sahara Computers was also embroiled in controversy after Zuma’s twin children were given lucrative management and board positions at the company.
The Guptas are alleged to have been so close to Zuma that they announced changes to his Cabinet even before he did so himself, witnesses have said at the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
In 2017, the massive Sahara Computers offices abandoned, with media reports indicating that the company still owed creditors nearly half-a-billion Rand.
The company also entered into a deal with Subrata Roy’s Sahara India Pariwar in 2004 to manufacture and supply a broad range of IT products through 25 distribution hubs across India.
But the partnership was short-lived despite a mega launch in Lucknow attended by top Bollywood celebrities, and business and political leaders from both countries.
In 2019, the US treasury department imposed sanctions on Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta, and their associate Salim Essa for their involvement in corruption in South Africa, saying they were ‘members of a significant corruption network in South Africa that leveraged overpayments on government contracts, bribery, and other corrupt acts to fund political contributions and influence government actions.’