Johannesburg – As authorities search the length and breadth of South Africa for Ajay Gupta, speculation is rife on whether he has fled the country for good.
News24 understands that the Hawks are still looking for Ajay, who is currently regarded as a fugitive, along with his two brothers Atul and Rajesh, albeit for different cases.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi told News24:"We have reason to believe he (Ajay) is still in the country."
He said Ajay was wanted for charges that are not related to the Vrede dairy farm case.
Management at OR Tambo International Airport, however, confirmed to News24 that there are records of Ajay leaving the country.
"We can confirm that we have records of Mr Ajay Gupta, who was on Dubai-bound Emirates flight on 6 February 2018 at 20:30," spokesperson Leigh Gunkel-Keuler said.
No comment from SARS, lawyer
She said they were currently in the process of handing the information over to the Hawks.
Gunkel-Keuler said if Ajay was back in the country – he might have re-entered through other ports of entry and not OR Tambo.
Meanwhile, spokesperson for the South African Revenue Service Sandile Memela said he could not confirm or deny whether Ajay was in the country.
"By law we cannot divulge information to the public even if we were looking for him," Memela told News24.
When News24 contacted Ajay's lawyer Ahmed Gani, he refused to comment.
"Are you from the media? I am not speaking to anybody, I apologise. I have no comment, thank you very much," Gani said.
R100 000 reward
City Press reported on February 11 that Ajay was spotted at Optimum Coal Mine in Mpumalanga on Tuesday, February 6.
Ajay landed in a helicopter at the mine with Ronica Ragavan, the chief executive of the Guptas' holding company Oakbay Investments, who was arrested by the Hawks during raids at Gupta properties earlier this week.
The publication said the two arrived with bodyguards, and a contingent of other people accompanied them to Optimum's offices.
Forensic consultant Paul O'Sullivan's organisation Forensics for Justice on Thursday afternoon said it was offering a R100 000 reward "for any person that gives information that leads to the arrest of Ajay Gupta within the next 48 hours".
Members of the public who want to give anonymous tip-offs on Ajay have been urged to call the organisation's toll-free hotline on 0800 118 118.
Bail for in dairy farm case
On Thursday, as police searched for Ajay, seven of the eight people arrested by the Hawks during raids at Gupta compounds this week were granted bail in the Bloemfontein Regional Court.
State officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng were each granted R10 000 bail.
Meanwhile, Gupta-linked suspects Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa and Ashu Chawla were each granted R200 000 bail.
The case against Estina director Kamal Vasram was postponed to Monday.
The State is not opposing bail, but said it was not happy that Vasram's address was not confirmed.
According to the charge sheet, the accused face 12 counts, including theft, fraud, conspiracy to commit theft and fraud.
13 warrants of arrest
The suspects were arrested in connection with investigations into the Free State Vrede dairy farm project, Mulaudzi said.
Earlier on Thursday, police ministry spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said they were working with the National Prosecuting Authority on the state capture investigations.
He said 13 warrants of arrest were issued in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.
He added that police were still looking for two suspects while three others, including two from India, and one of Chinese origin, were believed to be outside of South Africa.
A reliable source told News24 that the police were looking for Atul and his wife Chetani, Rajesh (Tony) and his wife Arti, and their business associate Soo Young Jean.
City Press previously reported that Thabethe – the Free State agriculture head – was arrested in connection with his involvement in the failed dairy farm project.
R30m for Gupta wedding
A senior security cluster official told City Press that Thabethe was arrested on Wednesday morning, after a raid at his home in Bloemfontein earlier on the same day.
In January, the Hawks also conducted search and seizure operations at Free State Premier Ace Magashule's offices and the provincial office of the department of agriculture.
An affidavit has also revealed that Free State's agricultural department – then under Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane – allegedly paid R220m to the Guptas and some of their associates in what the Asset Forfeiture Unit calls a "scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department".
One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme, but they never received them.
Gifted to the Gupta-linked Estina in 2013, under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department, the farm has been one of the most scandalous transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.
The Gupta Leaks revealed in 2017 how at least R30m paid to the Guptas, via the farm, ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.