On October 10, 2019, the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Ajay Gupta, Atul Gupta, Rajesh Gupta, and Salim Essa of South Africa (“the Guptas”) as Specially Designated Nationals (“SDNs”). The Guptas and their business associate, Essa, were designated in connection with their involvement in corruption under Executive Order 13818 (EO 13818), which implements and expands upon the sanctions authorities set out in the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. The designation of the Guptas and Essa as SDNs represents one of the most high-profile applications of the corruption-related sanctions provision of EO 13818 to date.

OFAC stated that the Guptas and Essa were members of a significant corruption network that leveraged overpayments on government contracts, bribery, and other corrupt acts to influence actions taken by the government of South Africa, in particular by facilitating their capture of government contracts and misappropriation of state assets. As a result of their designation as SDNs, all four individuals’ property and the property of any entities that are owned 50 percent or more by them, which are in the United States or in the possession or control of a US person, are now blocked.

The South African Department of Justice (“SA DOJ”) released a positive media statement in response to the OFAC designations, noting their long history of cooperation with United States law enforcement agencies. SA DOJ similarly confirmed having expedited attempts to extradite the Guptas to South Africa, where they are yet to face criminal charges. The Guptas have allegedly been based in the United Arab Emirates since being forced to close their businesses in South Africa.

Authors: Kerry B. Contini, Darryl Bernstein, Lise S. Test and Daniel Andreeff