Gupta fight goes to Dubai

Prosecutors are taking the state’s battle against the Guptas to Dubai, where officials have asked the United Arab Emirates government to preserve an amount of R169m that the family allegedly stole and transferred out of South Africa.

This follows an order granted this week by the high court in Bloemfontein in favour of the Asset Forfeiture Unit, increasing the preservation order first granted in January to R250m.

This is the amount the controversial family and their lieutenants allegedly looted from the failed Estina dairy project in Vrede, Free State.

A senior prosecutor working close to the case told City Press that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was confident that authorities in Dubai would cooperate.

This is the first official step local law enforcement authorities have taken to pursue the Guptas, close friends of former president Jacob Zuma, to Dubai, where they own a mansion that allegedly cost them R331m.

“We don’t have any official cooperation agreements with them. But both countries have cooperated before. We have assisted them with cases and they have assisted us. And there is no doubt that they will assist us again,” he said.

The new order grants the Asset Forfeiture Unit permission to preserve two amounts. The first is R33m, which the Gupta family and their lieutenants deposited into an account held at the Bank of Baroda on October 14 2013. The second is R169m, which they transferred to a Dubai-based shelf company called Gateway Limited between August 2013 and May 2016.

The Bank of Baroda ceased operations in South Africa on Friday, three days after the order was granted in Bloemfontein.

The order, which City Press has obtained, states: “It is declared that the proceeds of the unlawful activities dealt with by the applicant in the affidavits filed by it is the total sum of R250m.”

The NPA has appointed Pietermaritzburg-based insolvency practitioner and liquidator Eugene Nel as curator of the R250m.

The NPA’s Free State spokesperson, Phaladi Shuping, confirmed that the order was granted on Tuesday.

“The assumption is that the R169m is money that is not in South Africa at the moment. The assumption is that the money came from South Africa and is now in Dubai, fraudulently so. That is why they applied for that preservation order,” he said.

He said Nel would start communicating with authorities in Dubai immediately.

“The curator will communicate with law enforcement agencies in that area. Once they agree with that order, that money will be preserved. They will tell them that we preserved R169m relating to this family because we believe the money comes from the South African government and was brought to Dubai illegally,” he said.

“If they agree with us, that money will be preserved,” Shuping said, adding that the NPA still needed to secure the cooperation of Dubai’s law enforcement agencies.

In his affidavit, Nel said: “The total sum of R169m was transferred from the Estina Standard Bank account to and from the Estina FNB account to Gateway. Despite all enquiries, I could not locate any bank account held by Gateway in South Africa. Indications are that Gateway ... operated and may still operate a bank account in the United Arab Emirates. Therefore, if a preservation order is granted in respect of the funds received by Gateway, I shall as soon as possible thereafter apply for the issue of letters of recognition to have my appointment as curator recognised in the United Arab Emirates.”

This preservation order follows one the Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained in January. At the time, it was stated that R220m was syphoned from the Free State agriculture department and ended up in the pockets of the Guptas and their companies.

The application accompanying that order cited Atul Gupta as having received R10m. Three weeks ago, he dealt the NPA a blow when he went to the high court in Bloemfontein to force the NPA to unfreeze R180m that was preserved in January, as well as the R10m preserved from his personal account.

In February, the Hawks arrested eight people in connection with the scandal. Among those charged with fraud, theft and money laundering were Gupta lieutenants Varun Gupta‚ Ashu Chawla‚ Kamal Vasram‚ Ronica Ragavan and Nazeem Howa, and former agriculture officials Peter Thabethe and Seipati Dlamini. They will appear in court again in August.

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