State capture inquiry: Estina testimony postponed after Thabethe's legal team withdraws

2019-09-16 12:52
The Estina dairy farm in Vrede, in the Free State. (Conrad Bornman, Netwerk24)

The Estina dairy farm in Vrede, in the Free State. (Conrad Bornman, Netwerk24)

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The judicial commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday postponed the testimony of the former head of the Free State Department of Agriculture, Peter Thabethe, after his legal team withdrew.

Thabethe revealed this information to inquiry chairperson Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo. While he did not go into any detail, he said he knew "what the problem was".

"His evidence will run for a further two days. He will be more comfortable if he is guided by a set of lawyers," evidence leader advocate Leah Gcabashe SC said.

An email from Thabethe's lawyers, dated September 13, 2019, was handed in and it indicated the lawyers' intention to withdraw. Thabethe was scheduled to give more evidence relating to the controversial Estina dairy farm project, worth about R500m.

The project in Vrede, in the Free State, was intended to empower one hundred black emerging farmers who were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme.

Gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free, 99-year lease by the Department of Agriculture in the province, the farm has been one of the most controversial transactions between the Guptas and a government entity, News24 earlier reported.

Thabethe, who was the head of the department at the time, previously conceded to the commission that the department had not done proper due diligence on Estina, News24 reported.

ALSO READ | UPDATE: Gupta-linked group accused of fraud in Vrede dairy farm project off the hook, for now

He later formed a part of a group of eight people who were arrested in connection with the alleged theft of R250m linked to the farm project.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) eventually withdrew the charges.

They 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, News24 reported.

ALSO READ | Mosebenzi Zwane hijacked council meeting to present Vrede dairy farm proposal, state capture inquiry hears

Zondo agreed that evidence should be postponed to October 3, 2019, because Thabethe "played a critical role in the Estina project".

Read more on:    estina  |  raymond zondo  |  johannesburg  |  state capture inquiry  |  state capture  |  corruption
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