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Court thaws R180m Estina money, Atul Gupta’s R10m

09 March 2018 - 15:09 By Karyn Maughan
Atul Gupta. File photo.
Atul Gupta. File photo.
Image: Robert Tshabalala

The Guptas have won round one in the state's first state capture court case.

The high court in Bloemfontein on Friday ruled that the asset forfeiture unit (AFU) could not prove that the R220-million preserved because of alleged criminal activity linked to the Estina dairy farm project was the proceeds of crime.

The court ruled that R180-million of this be unlocked. The remaining R40-million relates to entities that did not apply for reconsideration of the AFU's original preservation order.

It also ruled that R10-million frozen from Atul Gupta’s personal bank account be released.

Effectively‚ the court found that although the transactions may be suspicious‚ it was not shown that Atul Gupta or any Gupta entities got money directly from the Estina project in the Free State.

AFU claimed that Estina made two R5-million payments to the Bank of Baroda’s Nedbank pool account on December 20 2013. An AFU investigator alleged that the R10-million formed part of R38-million then paid to Atul Gupta.

Judge Fouche Jordaan pointed out that multiple other deposits had been made into the Bank of Baroda clearing account at the time and it was "not clear why [the AFU] comes to that conclusion".

The judge further referred to the Estina project’s bank accounts supplied by the Bank of Baroda‚ which did not show any money being paid to Atul Gupta or any Gupta entities.

Earlier on Friday‚ TimesLIVE reported that advocate Mike Hellens‚ representing Oakbay and other Gupta-owned companies‚ described the AFU's application to freeze his clients' assets as "a national embarrassment" and suggested there was no direct evidence that Gupta companies had received money from the Estina project.

The Bank of Baroda also fought to reverse the AFU's freezing of its current account with Nedbank‚ which it uses to serve 800 clients - 750 of whom are not Gupta-linked.

Jordaan said he could not fault the Bank of Baroda for objecting to its Nedbank pool account being frozen. He said the AFU’s conclusions regarding this account were based on selective reading and‚ in instances‚ were "demonstrably unsubstantiated".

He also slated the AFU's claims that certain payments to Gupta companies Oakbay and Aerohaven were linked to the Estina project.

"There's no rationale and rational basis for concluding that the amounts paid to Oakbay and Aerohaven stem from the Estina deposit‚ and not other deposits."