A palatial house decorated with gold fixtures and vintage furniture is the home of the Gupta family in Dubai.
The billionaire brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh Gupta, who allegedly looted billions from state-owned companies in South Africa, lived for a few years with their families in the luxury Emirates Hills community in Dubai.
Dubai Police arrested Atul and the youngest brother, Rajesh, after Interpol placed them on its most-wanted list. South African authorities have sought their arrest on charges of fraud, money laundering and allegedly bribing government officials to secure contracts.
The status of the eldest brother, Ajay, is not clear.
Very little information is available about the personal lives of the intensely private Indian family.
The National spoke to Prateek Chaudhry, a Dubai-based designer and friend of the Guptas, for a glimpse into their lives.
Founder and managing director of interior design company The First Ferry, Mr Chaudhry was a frequent visitor to their Emirates Hills home and their office in Boulevard Plaza near Burj Khalifa.
“It’s a tight-knit family. The brothers worked together and were very close,” said Mr Chaudhry.
“Everyone stayed in the same house, the brothers, their wives and children. They were one big joint family.”
Furniture once owned by the Tsars and Michael Jackson
When they first met in early 2018, the Guptas' assets had been frozen in South Africa as part of an investigation by law enforcement agencies.
The brothers are accused of siphoning off billions of rand in state funds and building a business empire through their ties to former president Jacob Zuma and his family.
Mr Chaudhry spent a lot of time with Atul between 2018 and 2019.
“There was no bling about him [Atul],” Mr Chaudhry said.
“He was very low profile in the way he dressed and spoke. You had to really listen to hear what he was saying.”
The Guptas' mother presided over prayers every evening.
“They ate only vegetarian food. Their mother is the centre of the home and the three brothers think the world of their mom,” he said.
“She did the puja every evening at 7pm when there was a aarti or a real big puja in the house. Anyone in the house at that time was called to be part of the prayers.”
Mr Chaudhry often discussed overseas projects with Mr Gupta from 10am until late evening, and took part in the prayers.
Duduzane Zuma, son of the former South African president and a business partner of the Guptas, was in the house and took part in an evening prayer session that Mr Chaudhry was invited to.
The Emirates Hills home had about 35 members of staff, with butlers hired from the city’s top hotels.
Gold inlay work decorated the walls of the 40,000sq ft, 10-bedroom house that boasted a grand staircase, hand-painted central dome, multiple reception rooms with marble floors, and chandeliers.
The house was furnished with antiques and collectables.
Furniture in the living rooms once belonged to Russian tsars, a sofa was owned by Michael Jackson and miniature models of six private jets that the family owns were on display.
“There was gold inlay in the walls but it was not over the top,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“I have seen the most fancy houses in Emirates Hills. Here, the gold never struck your eyes. I would define the architecture as stately.
“Almost every piece of furniture had a history, a legacy. There were several pieces of collectable furniture.
“I have seen descriptions of the house as lavish but it's not. It was a blend of wood panelling, gold and marble.”
The underground parking had space for more than 10 cars, one of which was a rare Rolls-Royce Twilight limited edition.
The Emirates Hills community is filled with tree-lined pathways, lush landscapes and many homes overlook lakes and green stretches of a championship golf course.
Mr Chaudhry designs the interiors of homes, yachts and landscapes in India and overseas. His boutique firm also collaborated with Gauri Khan, the wife of Bollywood movie star Shah Rukh Khan, on homes and restaurant spaces.
His ties with the Gupta family dwindled over the past few years as the family travelled more frequently overseas.
The Gupta brothers deny any wrongdoing and have fought the application of the Red Notices, saying they are the victims of a political witch hunt in South Africa.
“I don’t know about the right and wrong, I just knew him [Atul] as a person,” Mr Chaudhry said.
“I have worked with many wealthy people. He was different because when he came to my office, no one knew he was from the powerful Gupta family.
“Atul was one of the most soft-spoken people I have met in my life.
“When you work with the wealthy, they have an idea, an opinion and it's always their way.
“But with Atul, if you had a better idea he would listen to you.”