How Guptas milked SA

R220-million meant for the poor funded family's life of luxury, including a jet, a lavish wedding, and friends in high places

21 January 2018 - 00:04 By MZILIKAZI wa AFRIKA, THANDUXOLO JIKA and QAANITAH HUNTER
The Vrede Dairy Farm project in the Free State has been at the centre of allegations of the Gupta family's wrongful enrichment.
The Vrede Dairy Farm project in the Free State has been at the centre of allegations of the Gupta family's wrongful enrichment.
Image: Alon Skuy

The Guptas spent millions of rands on a private jet and a fleet of luxury vehicles - and Atul Gupta directly scored R10-million - using taxpayers' money from a Free State government dairy farm project meant to alleviate poverty.

Vrede Dairy Farm was not even up and running when Atul, the second eldest of the three brothers linked to President Jacob Zuma, had R10-million deposited into his personal bank account by the company hand-picked to set up the farm.

A preservation order obtained by the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the NPA in the High Court in Bloemfontein this week reveals that Atul received the money despite not having any interest in the project or providing any farming-related services.

The order, seen by the Sunday Times, also reveals how the Guptas and their business associates became beneficiaries of the lion's share of R220-million paid by the Free State agriculture department to the company, Estina, in a project meant to benefit the poor.

This is the second preservation order obtained by the AFU this week, after the Mc-Kinsey and Trillian order granted earlier in the week.

Last year it was reported that R30-million from the farm was used to fund the extravagant Gupta wedding at Sun City in 2013.

The Sunday Times can reveal today that investigators in the state-capture corruption cases have discovered that more money was allegedly laundered through Estina for the benefit of the Guptas, their associates and companies.

"I further submit that there was no justification for the payment of an amount of ten million to Atul as he had no interest in Estina nor did he provide any farming-related service to Estina and/or Vrede Dairy Farm," said AFU prosecutor Nkosiphendule Mradla in the preservation order application.

The alleged laundered money was used to buy the family's Bombardier Global 6000 private jet with tail registration ZS-OAK and a fleet of cars. The investigators uncovered the following payments:

  • R30-million deposit for a private jet;

  • R19-million for luxury vehicles;

  • R30-million for the Sun City wedding;

  • R10-million into Atul's personal bank account; and

  • More than R100-million deposited into several Gupta-linked companies.

Estina had a sole director and shareholder, Kamal Vasram, a former "sales manager" at Gupta company Sahara Computers, with "no farming or agricultural experience". He paid himself R4-million from the project.

Documents from the leaked Gupta e-mails show the family entered into an agreement to buy the jet in 2014. Through their company Westdawn Investments they signed an agreement with Export Development Canada, which provided a soft loan for 80% of the finance required. Oakbay Investments became the corporate guarantor while Atul was the personal guarantor.

The Canadian company grounded the plane at EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg in France last month after cancelling the finance agreement because the Guptas defaulted on payments.

State-capture investigators suspect money laundering was behind all the transactions that siphoned funds into bank accounts of Gupta companies and their associates.

Papers filed for the preservation order reveal that shortly after the Free State government approved the Vrede project, a little-known company with no agricultural experience, Estina, was appointed to lead it.

The province also arranged a free 99-year lease on a 4 400ha farm outside Vrede. Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, a Gupta ally, was agriculture MEC at the time and lobbied for the project. Now investigators want Zwane to explain how he turned a blind eye while the Guptas were looting.

Zwane was a guest of honour at the Sun City wedding (pictured above), and before his appointment to the cabinet his CV was sent to the family.

The preservation order application is the first evidence uncovered by the AFUthat one of the Gupta brothers personally benefited from deals with state departments. The unit has put the cost of Gupta-linked state capture at more than R100-billion, and committed itself to recoup as much as possible.

The Sunday Times Rich List survey for 2016 named Atul the seventh-richest person in South Africa with personal wealth of R10.7-billion.

Seventeen separate investigations could see assets worth billions seized from the Guptas and their business associates.

Preservation order applications are already before the court in six of these matters. The first target investigators have in their sights is R50-billion, but they believe that could double.

A source close to the investigations revealed they kept their work under wraps until this week because they feared those implicated would begin disposing of assets.

R10.7-billion

The 2016 Sunday Times Rich List named Atul the 7th-richest person in SA

The AFU has also pre-empted any attempt by the Guptas and their associates to dump assets in Dubai by striking a deal with the authorities there that could freeze all the bank accounts and assets linked to the family and Duduzane Zuma.

The source said the unit was confident of co-operation from authorities in Dubai, where the Guptas and their associates have been accused of laundering money through shelf companies.

Investigators are confident the authorities there will assist in the repatriation of assets when the investigation is completed.

"As long as we can prove that assets in the UAE are the proceeds of crime they will help us," said a source with knowledge of the situation.

Last year, the CEO of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hamad Buamim, noted that money laundering by the Gupta family using shelf companies in Dubai had been discussed at the highest level. Attempts to get comment from Dubai law enforcement were unsuccessful.

The AFU registered a major success this week when advisory firm McKinsey agreed to refund a R1.6-billion illegal payment made by Eskom for a "turnaround programme" conducted between January and July 2016.

As long as we can prove that assets in the UAE are the proceeds of crime they will help us.

A source with intimate knowledge of the investigations said the money would not be returned to Eskom but would go into the AFU account and be used to combat crime.

"Investigators have noted that Eskom has proved to be too negligent with money and therefore the money has to be returned to the state," the source said.

Turning to Estina, the source said they would begin attaching assets next week and subsequent action by the NPA would show a link to high-profile politicians.

"For now, we are just chasing the money. We are finding kickbacks here and there. That's the next phase - the charges."

NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfako yesterday confirmed it has sought assistance from its counterparts around the world as it pursues criminal investigations in this matter. "So far we have received positive responses."

He couldn't confirm or deny whether it obtained a preservation order for Vrede Dairy Farm on Thursday. "We can only confirm about any preservation order after we [have] managed to secure the assets and informed all the relevant parties."

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