South African authorities raid Gupta compound in Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African police on Monday raided the compound of former president Jacob Zuma’s allies the Guptas, who were accused two years ago in a report by a corruption watchdog of using their influence to gain control of state companies and contracts.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said the raid was part of an investigation into theft, fraud and money laundering at a state-backed dairy project in the Free State province meant to benefit the local community.

The Gupta brothers have denied any wrongdoing in a scandal that contributed to Zuma’s fall as president and the election by parliament in February of President Cyril Ramaphosa on a platform of reviving the economy and cracking down on government corruption.

As part of the investigation into the dairy, prosecutors have obtained a court order freezing 220 million rand ($21 million) in bank accounts and assets of several individuals and entities implicated pending a criminal trial.

Mfaku said the probe was meant to address “corruption in the private sector and ensuring the recovery of government losses”.

In the court papers filed in Free State province, Atul Gupta denied receiving 10 million rand as alleged by prosecutors and said he was outside South Africa.

The whereabouts of the Gupta brothers is not publicly known. Ajay Gupta was declared a “fugitive from justice” and left South Africa for Dubai in February.

The Gupta family lawyer, Mr Gert van der Merwe, was not reachable for comment, with his office saying he was abroad. The Gupta family spokesman could also not be reached.

The Guptas have also denied any wrongdoing after being accused by the public anti-graft watchdog of using their friendship with Zuma to influence policy and amass wealth. Zuma has also denied any wrongdoing.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg