State capture court case on the brink ahead of crucial court hearing

17 August 2018 - 06:00 By Karyn Maughan
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul.
Ajay Gupta and his younger brother Atul.
Image: MARTIN RHODES

Six months after Gupta family members and business associates were arrested for their involvement in the alleged Estina Dairy Project “scam”‚ the hallmark state capture case against them is on the brink of collapse.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has as yet‚ been unable to secure Mutual Legal Assistance from several foreign jurisdictions in connection to its case‚ which involves allegations that millions intended for poor black farmers were siphoned to Gupta companies. This has led to the state being unable to finalise the indictment in the case.

As a result‚ the NPA is expected to ask that the case be postponed again when the matter is heard in the High Court in Bloemfontein – an application that the Guptas' lawyers are determined to fight.

It’s expected that senior counsel Mike Hellens will argue that the case must be struck from the roll‚ effectively killing the prosecution. He’s expected to argue that‚ given that the trial has already been postponed for half a year‚ it would not be in the interests of justice for his clients to be subjected to any further delays of their trial.

If Hellens persuades the court to make such a ruling it will be another blow to the NPA’s state capture campaign.

Three months ago‚ the state suffered what it described as a “devastating” ruling in the Bloemfontein High Court. At the time the court wasn’t satisfied that there was adequate evidence connecting R250-million in Gupta assets to the alleged Estina Dairy Project scam.

Judge Phillip Loubser stated that 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.

NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku has declined to give any comment on Friday’s court hearing of the Estina case‚ and whether the state was ready to proceed with the trial‚ or would seek a postponement.

The Guptas' attorney‚ Rudi Krause‚ on Thursday confirmed that “any attempt to postpone this matter will be vehemently opposed”.

“At this point‚ we have no idea what the state intended doing. The prosecution has not communicated with us‚” he said.

The lawyers representing Varun Gupta‚ Ashua Chawla‚ Kamal Vasram‚ Ronica Ragavan‚ Nazeem Howa – who all worked for the Gupta business empire – have repeatedly argued that there is no solid evidence linking them to the alleged Estina scam.

Also facing charges are Free State agriculture department officials Peter Thebetha‚ Takisi Janki Masiteng and Department of Mineral Resources chief of staff Sylvia Dlamini. They all face a number of charges‚ ranging from fraud and theft to corruption and money laundering.

On Wednesday‚ Hawks head Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya told Parliament’s police portfolio committee that the unit was investigating cases where more than R40-billion which has been plundered from state coffers as a result of alleged state capture.

Speaking about the Estina Investigation‚ he said the Hawks had obtained 302 bank account reports‚ as well as the statements of 139 witnesses. Lebeya added that two search and seizure operations had been conducted and an auditing company procured to analyse the flow of funds linked to the alleged scam.

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