Crucial ruling on Gupta's Estina case on Tuesday
The future of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) first state capture trial hangs in the balance‚ as the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court will on Tuesday rule on whether to throw the Estina dairy project case out of court.
Magistrate Collin Nekosi has to decide whether to grant the NPA’s application for a three to six month postponement‚ so that it can finalise certain financial aspects of its case‚ pertaining the alleged theft of millions intended for poor black farmers.
Nekosi will be given one day after Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo begins his inquiry into state capture.
Prosecutor Justice Bakamela told the court: “The state requests this postponement to finalise financial investigation and continue extradition proceedings from the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore‚ the state needs a period of two to six months to finalise investigations.”
But lawyers for the eight Estina accused‚ who include Gupta family and business associates as well as for former Free State agriculture department officials‚ say this postponement would be a gross violation of their clients’ rights to a fair and speedy trial.
The Gupta’s lawyer‚ Mike Hellens‚ argued that “section 35 of the Constitution affords us a right to a fair and speedy trial. There is no basis that this court can be asked to postpone the matter again.”
Bakamela responded: “Is there any unreasonable delay in this matter by the state? There’s none.”
He added that the Estina case docket had only been opened on July 21 last year.
The Guptas’ lawyers further insist that there is no real evidence against Gupta nephew Varun Gupta and Ashua Chawla‚ Kamal Vasram‚ Ronica Ragavan and Nazeem Howa‚ who all worked for the Gupta business empire.
Hellens said the state had shown a profound lack of competence in pursuing the case. He argued that the case should be struck from the roll‚ meaning it could be reinstated if and when the state finalises its case.
The state insists it can prove that R250-million intended for poor black farmers was siphoned into the bank accounts of Gupta families‚ but have failed twice to secure the freezing of Gupta assets it claims are linked to this scheme.
Referring to one of the damning rulings made against the state by Judge Fouche Jordaan‚ Hellens said the decision essentially told the NPA that: “You are talking nonsense. You do not understand the flow of funds. You do not understand banking.”
Jordaan also highlighted serious omissions or mistakes in the state’s case‚ Hellens pointed out. Those mistakes included the Asset Forfeiture Unit confusing transactions of the Bank of Baroda’s “pool account” with Nedbank – which served 750 clients – with the actual Estina project account.
Three months ago‚ the state suffered what it described as a “devastating” ruling in the high court in Bloemfontein‚ which wasn’t satisfied that there was adequate evidence connecting the R250-million in Gupta assets to the alleged Estina scam.
Judge Phillip Loubser said the evidence that the state relied on was “unreliable” and showed “many shortcomings that remain unexplained at this point”.
The NPA has not attempted to appeal that ruling.