South Africa is “concerned” that some countries have “mastered the art of delaying or refusing to ratify extradition treaties” and mutual legal assistance requests, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the United Nations Convention against Corruption (Uncac) on Wednesday.
“Ultimately, these states run the risk of becoming safe havens of corruption,” he said.
South Africa has been engaging with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for the extradition of members of the Gupta family and their associates for some time.
In October, National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Shamila Batohi told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services that the NPA was experiencing “particular difficulties” with requests for mutual legal assistance (MLA) from India and the UAE.
On Wednesday, addressing the 8th Session of the Conference of States Parties to the Uncac in Abu Dhabi, Lamola said South Africa was committed to bringing to book those guilty of corruption – particularly relating to state capture.
He said South Africa entered into bilateral extradition treaties with 18 countries and agreements relating to MLA with 13 countries.
“To this end, we have recently concluded mutual legal assistance and extradition treaties with the state parties of Uncac.”
India and the UAE are state parties to Uncac.
“The South African government has already approached a number of countries for mutual legal assistance and/or extradition agreements to have those suspected of state capture to face charges in South Africa,” Lamola said.
“In practice, it should not be possible for any country who states that it is serious about fighting corruption to reject mutual legal assistance and/or extradition requests solely on the grounds of non-material technical or formal deficiencies.”
Lamola called on all member states of the Uncac to “make every effort to intensify collaboration with each other to investigate, repatriate assets and to extradite fugitives”.
“The fight against crime and corruption has become a transnational phenomenon and cannot, therefore, be confined to national borders.
“As parties to [Uncac], we should negate and eradicate impunity by working together to ensure that we are not co-perpetrators of crimes ourselves, it is our duty to ensure the criminals do not feel safe in our beloved countries.”
He said a failure to repatriate assets and extradite suspects will undermine efforts to address the scourges of corruption and inequality.
“Various jurisdictions have illustrated a tangible appreciation toward South Africa’s constitutional commitment to maintain the rule of law,” he said.
“We appeal to all those who we have approached and may still be approaching to cooperate and assist us. It would be a travesty of justice if [countries] decide to stand by and watch as our stolen assets are laundered through their financial systems whilst our economy is on a brink of collapse with dire consequences for our population.”
Lamola also explained some of South Africa’s measures to combat corruption.
“Combating corruption remains a major priority for the South African government due to its prevalence in both the government and private sector, as it is a strong constraint on growth and development,” he said.
“As part of its endeavours in the fight against corruption, South Africa’s Special Investigating Unit (SUI) investigates corruption, malpractice and maladministration in the [country]. The SIU’s Special Tribunal, appointed in March this year, is tasked with adjudicating civil processes aimed at recovering money syphoned off through corruption and other forms of illicit money flows.
“Our Asset Forfeiture Unit, with the assistance of its law enforcement counterparts, has embarked on a programme to identify several focus areas with the view of extending its footprint in the fight against crime and corruption.”
He said matters relating to state capture was a priority for the Asset Forfeiture Unit.