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Bail denied for Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma

08 June 2021 - 13:52 By iavan pijoos

Alleged key Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma was denied bail during the second day of proceedings at Bloemfontein Magistrates court. Along with 16 others, Sharma is charged with defrauding the Free State local government of at least R25 million.

Gupta family associate and businessman Iqbal Sharma was denied bail by the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Tuesday.

Sharma appeared in court in connection with the failed R288m Estina dairy project in the Free State.

He was arrested with 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.

Iqbal Sharma in court on Tuesday.
Iqbal Sharma in court on Tuesday.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / Sunday Times

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.

Moorosi, Dhlamini and Thabethe are out on bail of R10,000.

Sharma said in his affidavit: “If I had any intention to flee SA or to evade trial, I would have done so by now, given that I have been aware of ongoing investigations against me since 2018.

“I have travelled in and outside SA on business trips regularly since 2018 and I have always returned to SA as I consider it to be my permanent home.”

Later he added: “I have built a life in SA and consider it to be my permanent home. I have no intention of emigrating nor do I have any reason to do so.”

Investigating Directorate (ID) head advocate Hermione Cronje said last week the NPA was applying to Interpol to help 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.

Sharma denied having ties to the Gupta family, saying he last saw them in 2014. He said he last saw former business partner Salim Essa in Dubai in December 2017. Sharma said he briefly bumped into Essa at the hotel where he and his wife Tarina Patel stayed.

“That meeting lasted about two minutes, when we greeted each other and exchanged brief pleasantries.”

Essa was a business partner of Sharma’s in a company called VR Laser, which received millions in suspicious contracts from state arms company Denel. Allegations about VR Laser have played out frequently at the state capture commission.

This is a developing story.