EXCLUSIVE: Guptas' Sahara Computers closed, abandoned

Johannesburg - One of the key companies in the Guptas' crumbling business empire, Sahara Computers, has quietly closed down.

The controversial family and their associates are now trying to sell Sahara's premises for R50m.

Sahara Computers and two of its sister companies in the IT sector – Annex Distribution and Sahara Systems – closed down several months ago, apparently without drawing much attention.

News24 on Friday gained access to Sahara Computers' abandoned premises in Midrand, Johannesburg. Sahara Systems was also housed in the same building.

On the market for R50m

An estate agent from the estate agency whose sign is posted outside the building said that the property was in the market for R50m. Alternatively, the 6 500 square metre property could be leased for about R390 000 a month.

The property is owned by Islandsite Investments 180, the same property holding company that owns the Guptas' sprawling residential assets in the plush Johannesburg neighbourhood of Saxonwold.

Islandsite's two remaining directors are Ashu Chawla and Ronica Ragavan, according to company records. Atul and Tony Gupta and their respective wifes, Arti and Chetali, had resigned as directors in 2016.

Chawla and Ragavan were among the eight suspects who appeared in the Bloemfontein Regional Court on Thursday on a string of charges related to the Free State Estina dairy project scandal, in which Atul Gupta is also directly implicated.

The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) had earlier obtained a preservation order for Islandsite's bank account, but according to National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) spokesperson Luvuyo Mfako, the preservation order does not cover Islandsite's fixed assets.

The Sahara companies were once one of the most visible brands in the Guptas' business empire.

At its pinnacle, Sahara Computers sponsored some of South Africa's most hallowed cricket grounds, while former Proteas cricket stars Graeme Smith, Shaun Pollock and Makhaya Ntini, among others, acted as brand ambassadors and brand representatives for the company. 

Today, however, a couple of boxes of computer hardware in the building's massive warehouse, along with some documents and deserted work cubicles, are some of the few remaining signs that the site once housed a thriving business.

Boxes of computer hardware left behind at the Guptas’ abandoned Sahara Computers. (Pieter-Louis Myburgh, News24)

The 6 500 square metre premises is located next to the N1 highway. 

Three former Sahara employees and a security guard were the only people at the office building. 

One of the former employees told News24 that Sahara closed down about four months ago. He said the company had not been sold and was not moving to another location. 

It appears as if the Guptas vacated the premises in a hurry. They left behind sports memorabilia, including an ornamental cricket bat and a jersey signed by South African cricket stars, furniture, model airplanes and a massive big screen TV in one of the executive offices. 

High flyers: Model airplanes in one of the executive offices. (Pieter-Louis Myburgh, News24)

Large portraits of Shiv Kumar Gupta, father of Ajay, Atul and Tony and Sahara Computers' "founder", hung in one of the boardrooms and in an adjacent office.

Papers, documents and empty lever arch file holders were strewn over some of the desks and on the floors of some of the offices.

A massive 3 000 square metre warehouse, which forms part of the premises, was also empty, save for some boxes apparently containing computer equipment.

Other amenities in the building include a gym, a recreation room with a large bar and a Hindu worship room. 

Access cards with pictures of former Sahara staffers lay discarded in a cardboard box in a corner; an eerie reminder that the stuffy, quiet space was once filled with hundreds of office workers.

Relationship builder: A framed poster showing former Sahara MD Atul Gupta’s mission statement for the company. (Pieter-Louis Myburgh, News24)

The former offices of Annex Distribution, which is located in the same office park, is also abandoned.

The estate agent said the premises could be leased for about R102 000 a month, or purchased for R15m. This property is owned by a company of which Atul Gupta was a director until July 2016.

None of the numbers for Sahara Computers, Sahara Systems or Annex Distribution were answered on Friday. 

The Guptas' Sahara Computers in Midrand, Johannesburg, has quietly closed down. The premises are up for rent or for sale. (Pieter-Louis Myburgh, News24)

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