Gupta ‘lieutenant’ Iqbal Sharma ‘will flee SA’ if granted bail, court hears

Sharma made 128 trips out of SA over 11 years using his SA passport

08 June 2021 - 13:43
Businessman Iqbal Sharma at the magistrate's court in Bloemfontein on June 8 2021.
Businessman Iqbal Sharma at the magistrate's court in Bloemfontein on June 8 2021.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / The Sunday Times

Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma has been “dishonest” with the court about his financial affairs, travels extensively, speaks foreign languages, is “extremely wealthy” and is a flight risk.

In an affidavit read out in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Tuesday by state prosecutor Peter Serunye, investigating officer Col Mandla Aloise Mtolo said the state  opposed Sharma’s bail application as he “presents an overwhelming flight risk who has the means and incentive to flee SA”.

Mtolo alleged Sharma was “at the heart of corrupt transactions that generated billions of rand in kickbacks for the Guptas”.

Mtolo said no sum put up for bail was likely to act as a meaningful counterweight to incentivise Sharma to remain in SA. Sharma knew if he fled the country to avoid a criminal trial, he would forfeit his assets anyway due to a restraint order obtained by the Asset Forfeiture Unit, read the affidavit.

“Sharma also has the experience and means to flee the country. Sharma was born in the United Kingdom and has schooled or lived in five different foreign countries. Sharma has residence rights in the UAE [United Arab Emirates].”

His legal representative, however, argued afterwards that his client was aware of the investigation against him and had always returned to SA after trips abroad. He considered SA to be his home and  believed he would be acquitted of the charges.

In his argument against bail, Mtolo said Sharma had spent half his life outside SA. Mtolo said Sharma had an “extensive travel history and has, over the past 11 years, made 128 trips out of SA using his SA passport. He had travelled to all six continents.”

Mtolo said Sharma spoke English, French, Urdu and Hindi. He attended school in England, India, Swaziland, Pakistan, the US and Johannesburg.  

“Sharma has close connections with India. He went to school in India, speaks Hindi and Urdu and his wife, Tarina Patel, is an actress who had a minor career in Bollywood.

“Sharma’s sister Laila lives in California, where she works as a nurse. His brother, on his own admission, also lives in the US.”

Sharma has made more than 100 flights to or from airports in the UAE since 2010.
Investigating officer Col Mandla Aloise Mtolo

Mtolo said Sharma had the financial means to flee and support himself outside SA.

“He has access to offshore assets running into hundreds of millions of rand that were transferred into his UAE company Issar Global Ltd by transactions appearing to be money laundering transactions, and that he has sought to conceal this from the court.”

The state argued Sharma had not been honest with the court.

“His affidavit in support of his application for bail has been framed carefully to give the guise of an open and honest affidavit but, in fact, discloses only information which the NPA [National Prosecuting Authority] already knows or which he assumes the NPA already knows.

“Sharma’s affidavit is also crafted fraudulently to convey to this court that the bulk of his estate is situated within SA, when his South African estate probably comprises less than 10% of his offshore estate.”

According to the state, Issar Global Ltd has a share capital of AED1m (about R3.6m). The state said Issar Capital’s board of directors comprised of Sharma and Salim Essa, who was identified with reference to a British passport number, which he claimed to have lost.

“Sharma was vested with authority over all affairs of Issar Global Ltd.”

The state said Sharma had 100 shares in Issar Global, and according to transaction records obtained, between August and December 2016, two SA companies, MAR Shipping Ltd and Woodview Corporation (Pty) Ltd, transferred “aggregated” amounts of R264,459,241 to Issar Global.

“Issar Global, based in the UAE, has received at least R264,459,241 into an account it holds in the UAE.”

The state believed Sharma was likely to flee to the UAE because he had residence rights.

“Sharma has made more than 100 flights to or from airports in the UAE since 2010. His former criminal associates, the Gupta brothers and Essa, have thus far placed themselves beyond the reach of the SA criminal justice system by taking up residence in UAE.”

Mtolo said should he flee to the UAE, it would be “extremely difficult to extradite him to face trial”.

“In this regard, the NPA has experienced very poor co-operation from the UAE authorities in relation to requests for mutual legal assistance relating to the investigations into Essa and [the Gupta brothers].”

'A citizen of the world'

In response to Mtolo’s affidavit, defence advocate Stephanus Coetzee SC argued that Sharma was a “citizen of the world” and most travels happened when he was employed as a senior official in the trade and industry department. 

Coetzee said Sharma considered SA to be his home.

“It important to note he has had knowledge of the investigation against himself and Nulane Investments for more than a year. He was aware and he did not flee. He returned.” 

Coetzee said the state claimed that due to Sharma’s financial means it would be easy for him to flee the country, but Sharma offered to voluntarily hand over his passport. 

He argued it would be difficult for Sharma to flee the country without travel documents, especially after he had been red-flagged. 

“He has chosen to stay in this country because this is his home.” 

Coetzee said Sharma believed he would be acquitted of the charges. He said Sharma would stand trial and not “run away”. 

“The charges against him are serious, so is murder and yet they get bail,” he said. 

Coetzee said it would be difficult for Sharma to obtain international documents required for his case should he be kept behind bars. 

“The accused knew about the allegations against him and has travelled extensively out of the country after becoming aware of it, but he returned.

“On what consumable basis can the state say now that he is arrested on these charges, he will flee?” 

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