Atul Gupta, pictured at a conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2012
Atul Gupta, pictured at a conference of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) in 2012 AFP

South Africa said Friday it had learnt with "shock and dismay" that the United Arab Emirates had turned down its request to extradite two brothers accused of orchestrating industrial-scale corruption.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said the government was notified on Thursday evening of a Dubai court decision not to allow for the extradition of business tycoons Atul and Rajesh Gupta.

"We learnt with shock and dismay that the extradition hearing had been concluded in the Dubai Court on the 13 February 2023 and our extradition request was unsuccessful," Lamola said in a statement.

The Guptas are alleged to have colluded with former president Jacob Zuma to siphon off state assets from South Africa, the continent's most advanced economy.

South Africa filed the extradition request in July last year after the two were arrested in Dubai a month earlier.

The arrests followed the inking of an extradition treaty between Pretoria and the UAE.

The ultra-wealthy brothers ran a sprawling family business empire in South Africa for more than two decades after migrating from India.

South Africa's case centres on an alleged 25-million-rand ($1.6-million) fraud linked to an agricultural feasibility study -- small fry compared to the scale of other allegations facing the family.

Lamola said the Dubai court determined that the UAE had jurisdiction on the charge of money laundering, as the crime in question was alleged to have been committed in the country as well as in South Africa.

On the charge of fraud and corruption, "the court found that the arrest warrant relating to this charge was cancelled," the minister said.

"The reasons provided for denying our request are inexplicable and fly in the face of the assurances given by Emirati authorities that our requests meet their requirements," Lamola said.

The minister accused the UAE of not having properly consulted the South African government before the extradition was turned down, saying such a "level of non-cooperation" was "highly unprecedented".

"We still intend to engage our counterparts... to ensure that the decision of the court is promptly appealed," Lamola added.

The two Indian-born brothers were at the heart of a massive plunder of state-owned enterprises that dogged Zuma's nine-year tenure, according to a marathon investigation published last year.

They arrived in South Africa in 1993 as white-minority apartheid rule crumbled, a year before Nelson Mandela won the country's first democratic elections.

Under Zuma, the pair became enmeshed at the highest levels of government and in the ruling African National Congress (ANC), including influencing ministerial appointments, according to the 5,600-page report.

The Guptas fled to the UAE in 2018 at the start of an anti-corruption push.

According to media reports earlier this week, the two brothers were spotted in Switzerland in late March.