Holy cow! Bank statements reveal how Free State government paid Guptas over R330m for Estina dairy farm

2019-02-13 07:11
The Estina dairy farm in Vrede.

The Estina dairy farm in Vrede. (Conrad Bornman)

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Bank statements show that the Free State government paid R334 202 652 over less than two years, from July 2014 to April 2016, to Indian company Estina.

Netwerk24 reported on Tuesday that the statements show the Guptas' involvement in the Vrede dairy scheme was far greater than previously suspected.

The bank statements show that the Free State Department of Agriculture paid the money over to Estina in amounts of up to R50m at a time.

The statements are for Estina's Standard Bank account, held at the Bedford Gardens branch, under account number 310864860.

Estina was supposed to run the Vrede dairy farm on behalf of the department.

The company should have ploughed the same amount of money back into the scheme, but statements showed that it never happened.

Instead, the money was paid into the company's Bank of Baroda account in India almost immediately.

'Plundering of assets by Guptas'

Netwerk24's sources described this as "a plundering of government assets by the Guptas and politicians" and added that it was proof that it was nothing other than state capture.

Amounts of up to R4m were also paid to Kamal Vasram, chief executive of Estina.

In contrast, relatively small amounts were spent on the farm itself for things such as animal feed.

The Estina bank statement. (Supplied to Netwerk24)

Veterinary reports that Netwerk24 has seen, showed that cows and calves died regularly on the farm.

A total of R5m was paid to the Bank of Baroda in one day, but only amounts of R14 437.26, R8 744.35 and R4 583.25 were spent at VKB for animal feed.

Theresa Rothman, who worked for the company, got a salary of only R4 000 per month.

Estina was liquidated in 2015, even though it had received a few hundred million rand in taxpayer money.

'Credit cards for SA politicians' 

Since then, the milk cows started dying and the Free State government was still paying about R1m per month to keep the farm running.

The bank statements showed what experts have said from the start: The dairy farm was just a shell through which money was sent to India.

Sources who have knowledge of the scam say the Guptas got the money to pay over to important Indian officials and officials in Dubai.

South African politicians would also get credit cards here with up to R20m to spend locally, as long as the money could not be traced via India back to people in South Africa.

The money was paid over with service level agreements, which are illegal.

Sources say these payments were approved at the highest level.

The Free State Department of Agriculture's bank statement. (Supplied to Netwerk24)

Kamal is one of the so-called Estina Eight who appeared in the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein last year on charges of corruption and money-laundering. The charges were dropped on December 4.

Bloemfontein NPA spokesperson Phaladi Shuping said the decision was made when the NPA did not receive information it needed from authorities in India and the UAE. Because of that, the investigation could not be completed, he said.

Kamal Vasram outside the regional court in Bloemfontein after an earlier court appearance. (File, Mlungisi Louw, Netwerk24)

Varun Gupta, the nephew of the infamous Gupta brothers, Oakbay CEO Ronica Ragavan, former Sahara executive Ashu Chawla, former TNA media executive Nazeem Howa, and three Free State provincial government officials, Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng, were the other accused in the case.

They all faced charges of fraud, theft, conspiracy to commit fraud and theft, contravening the Public Finance Management Act, contravening the Companies Act and contravening sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

The aim of the R250m dairy project was to empower black farmers.

The bank statements show that no payments were made to black beneficiaries.

Read more on:    bank of baroda  |  estina  |  gupta family  |  bloemfontein  |  state capture  |  corruption  |  agriculture

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