Gupta associate and former Free State officials in the dock over Estina dairy project
Interpol asked to assist with execution of arrest warrants for Guptas
Gupta family associate and businessman Iqbal Sharma and three former Free State agriculture officials appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Thursday in connection with the failed R288m Estina dairy project.
Sharma appeared alongside Peter Thabethe and Dr Limakatso Moorosi, who are former heads of the department of agriculture, and Seipati Dhlamini, who was the department’s financial officer.
Thabethe and Moorosi faced charges of contravention of the Public Finance Management Act and fraud.
Dhlamini was charged with fraud while Sharma and Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, where Sharma served as a director, faced charges of fraud and money laundering.
The four were arrested in the Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga on Wednesday in connection with the Estina dairy project scandal that unfolded at Vrede in the Free State.
It was later discovered that money had been allegedly laundered through a series of bank accounts.
According to the state indictment, between November 2011 and April 2012, the department of agriculture paid just under R25m in four payments into the Nedbank account of Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd. The payment was for a feasibility study.
The money was then allegedly laundered and distributed through a scheme of transactions into and through different bank accounts of Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, Wone Management (Pty) Ltd, Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd and Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty (Pty) Ltd held in SA, as well as into the offshore account of Gateway Ltd.
The indictment stated that the money was moved between the accounts in an “unusual and convoluted manner and without a legitimate business purpose”.
“The actual or likely effect of the convoluted movement of the property was to conceal or disguise the nature, source, location, disposition, movement of the said property or the ownership thereof or the department’s interest in respect thereof.
“The movement of the property also had the effect of enabling or assisting accused four [Sharma] to accused 17 [Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty (Pty) Ltd] and Gateway Ltd and its director, to remove or diminish the aforesaid property.”
The state alleged that an amount of R19,070,934, which formed part of the property derived by Sharma from the department, was eventually transferred from Sharma’s Bank of Baroda account into an offshore Standard Charter Bank account of Gateway Ltd, held in the United Arab Emirates under the pretext that it was for payment of services under the contract between him and Gateway Ltd.
Investigating Directorate (ID) spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said Sharma’s company Nulane was contracted to do a feasibility study on the success of Mohuma Mobung — a flagship government project in the province. The Estina dairy farm project was part of Mohuma Mobung.
Seboka said Nulane Investments then allegedly subcontracted the study to Deloitte which conducted it for R1.5m.
ID head advocate Hermione Cronje said the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was applying to Interpol to assist with the execution of arrest warrants in respect of:
- Atul Gupta and his wife, Chetali;
- Rajesh Gupta and his wife, Arti;
- Ankit Jain, former Nulane Investment Bank of Baroda account signatory;
- Ravindra Nath, director of Wone Management (Pty) Ltd; and
- Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh, the directors of Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd.
“The modus operandi used in this case appears to have been replicated in other government departments and projects. It is therefore critical that the evidence gathered in this matter is presented to court and a verdict obtained expeditiously,” Cronje said in a statement.
Sharma and Thabethe are expecting to apply for bail on Monday after their lawyers have analysed the indictment, the court heard.
Moorosi and Dhlamini are expected to apply for bail on Thursday afternoon.