PA who was a 'very close' Gupta associate scored as Estina farm manager

04 December 2020 - 21:50
One of the biggest beneficiaries among the employees of the controversial Estina Dairy Farm project was a "very close" Gupta associate who was a personal assistant to a former Indian intelligence official and had no agricultural experience.
One of the biggest beneficiaries among the employees of the controversial Estina Dairy Farm project was a "very close" Gupta associate who was a personal assistant to a former Indian intelligence official and had no agricultural experience.  
Image: Alon Skuy

One of the biggest beneficiaries among the employees of the controversial Estina Dairy Farm project was a “very close” Gupta associate who was a personal assistant to a former Indian intelligence official and had no agricultural experience.  

Paul Holden, the director of investigations at Shadow World Investigations, a global organisation which investigates cases of grand corruption, made the revelation while giving testimony at the state capture inquiry on Friday.   

“By far the largest recipient of funds, personally, from the Estina project in that regard was a man by the name of Chandrana Prasad,” said Holden.  

Prasad, a project manager at the time who had no qualification whatsoever, was paid with funds earmarked for dairy-related expenditure.

The revelation left both the chair of the commission, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, and evidence leader Adv Matthew Chaskalson stunned — and questioning his background.

“From what we can discern in the Gupta leaks [a series of leaked e-mails] is that he [Prasad] was either a junior to or PA to a former Indian intelligence officer,” said Holden.

In 2019, the commission heard evidence from former head of department at the farm Peter Thabethe, who said the provincial government did not conduct background checks on employees, including Prasad.

He claimed that when he enquired about this, he was informed Prasad had worked for an agricultural department in India.

Holden revealed that Prasad was paid a salary of over R3m, which he described as “quite substantial”.

Investigations also found that Prasad's visa was organised through the Gupta enterprises.

“We also see him interacting with various Gupta enterprise employees trying to advise them on how they can get certain security or diplomatic clearances in India. I would imagine part of the reason he was employed was to facilitate those sort of contacts,” Holden told the commission.

Holden showed how the Gupta family allegedly ran “a complex money-washing scheme”, which saw the Free State government's R280m investment for the farm squirrelled away overseas after it ballooned to over R880m.   

Holden also took the opportunity to clarify the figures after incorrect reports that the family stole nearly in R800m of public funds.

“The R800m refers to the aggregate deposit; that's all of the deposits have taken place in the Estina accounts. The importance of that figure is that we can show that all of the transfers constituted that R800m; the vast majority were drawn from the original R280m deposited by the Free State government,” he said.

Holden presented evidence in the form of Excel spreadsheets containing data on financial ledgers, which carry information on money transfers in euros, US dollars, rand and dirhams.

Chaskalson noted that the diagram presented showed monies appeared to originate from a loan from Guptas’ Oakbay company bank accounts, then went to Estina director Kamal Vasram, and eventually to Estina.

He asked Holden to suggest why this could have been the case.

“The only possible reason I can think is to create a degree of confusion in tracing the funds, to create a distance between Oakbay and Estina so that when an investigator was to look at Estina's Standard Bank account for example, they would  be seeing a whole range of transfers ..." he said.

The complex transfers could allow the director of the farm to argue he had put his own funds into the project.

The evidence also revealed how large sums of money from Estina flowed to the Guptas' UAE-linked companies, Linkway Trading, Accurate Investments, Fidelity Enterprises, Global Corporation, Vargafield and Gateway.

Holden is expected to continue giving evidence relating to the Gupta enterprises and the capture of Transnet on Monday evening.

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