News analysis

Ajay and Atul Gupta
Ajay (left) and Atul Gupta. (Gallo Images/Getty Images)
Ajay and Atul Gupta
  • The Gupta brothers and their associate Salim Essa are now subject to American sanctions as part of the GloMag list.
  • That categorises them with people the American government believes to be the scum of the earth: dictators, torturers, arms dealers, leaders directly responsible for genocide, and those who steal from the desperately poor.
  • Getting off the list is possible – but may require proof of "a positive change in behaviour".
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The brothers Gupta, and their associate Salim Essa, find themselves in extremely unsavoury company.

As of this week they are now categorised as part of a group the government of the United States alleges to be the scum of the earth, people who have not just murdered and tortured and stolen from the poor, but have done so systematically, and at scale.

The US Treasury on Thursday announced it had added the Guptas and Essa to its Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons List (SDN), because of their involvement in corruption.

The SDN is effectively a sanctions list, a comprehensive database of companies, individuals, and even ships that American entities may not interact with in any way without very specific permission.

Even US lawyers hired to argue against inclusion in the SDN must be specifically licensed to do so.

Delisting – with or without lawyers – is possible, but there is no guaranteed route to having sanctions lifted. Those included in the SDN can argue that they were victims of mistaken identity, or that the reason for sanctions being imposed no longer exists – but there is no provision in US regulations to argue innocence. Instead petitioners for delisting are encouraged to prove "a positive change in behaviour".

There are various routes to getting on the SDN. The Guptas have been designated under America's 2016 Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, activated by an executive order that declared "serious human rights abuses and corruption globally" as an emergency threat to US interests.

Over the the past two years the so-called GloMag list has grown rapidly to include people believed to be responsible for horrific crimes in various parts of the world, from arms dealers to thieves who steal foreign-donor funds intended for the most desperately poor people in their home countries.

This is the company the Gupta brothers and Salim Essa find themselves in as part of the GloMag list.

Individuals and groups implicated in ethnic cleansing in Myanmar. 

In August 2018 leaders and units of Myanmar's army for what the US described as "their involvement in ethnic cleansing in Burma’s Rakhine State and other widespread human rights abuses in Burma’s Kachin and Shan States".

The likes of Lieutenant General Aung Kyaw Zaw are believed to have been directly involved in a campaign of ethnic cleansing that featured massacres and sexual assaults, and caused 700,000 Muslims to flee the country.

Alleged torturers and henchmen from The Gambia and Cambodia.

GloMag features Yahya Jammeh, President of The Gambia until 2017, and alleged helpers such as Yankuba Badgie, who supposedly directly led paramilitary group "the Junglers", a greatly-feared "terror and assassination squad" that operated in that country. 

An inquiry into the Junglers has heard how victims were cut into pieces or thrown into wells after being shot or suffocated with plastic bags.

The list features alleged henchman from other countries too, such as General Hing Bun Hieng, who commanded Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s bodyguards. Those bodyguards were allegedly involved in beating opposition supporters – and in one case helping in the escape of people who lobbed hand grenades into an opposition crowd.

The Saudi Arabian team believed responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.

In November a group believed to have murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi were added to the GloMag list. 

Evidence suggests the team drugged Khashoggi before dismembering him, on what several countries say were the orders of Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

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