The Asset Forfeiture Unit is going after the Gupta family and their associates, and is set to serve a summons on them on Tuesday morning to preserve assets of theirs worth in the region of R1.6 billion.
This move will be the first time the State has taken action against President Jacob Zuma’s friends, who have been at the forefront of capturing the South African state.
The unit falls under the National Prosecuting Authority.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit applied for three separate orders at the high court in Pretoria as well as the high court in Bloemfontein last month, and the ex parte applications seeking orders to preserve the Guptas’ assets were granted.
Three senior officials at the Asset Forfeiture Unit and the National Prosecuting Authority confirmed to City Press that the unit sought to preserve the assets of the Guptas and their associates worth R1.6 billion, which will be placed under curatorship.
The application was brought in terms of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act, which allows assets of defendants in criminal cases – or people who have yet to be criminally charged – to be preserved pending the outcome of their prosecution.
After they have been successfully prosecuted, the assets are then permanently forfeited to the state.
Under the act, the assets in question are alleged to have been acquired with the proceeds of crime.
City Press understands that the process was meant to be accompanied by the arrests of members of the Gupta family, who are also the business partners of Zuma’s son Duduzane, as well as some of their close associates, which include senior politicians.
But exactly which members of the Gupta family this will involve and when the arrests will be effected are not yet clear.
City Press understands from senior sources within the Hawks that they have in their sights Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who irregularly helped the Guptas acquire Optimum Coal mine from Glencore.
City Press has been aware of the impending application since October last year, but was unable to report on the matter until the summons had been served.
At the time, City Press was told by a senior prosecutor that the aim of the application against the Guptas was “to preserve the assets while the criminal process unfolds”.
“The assets targeted include money in the banks, and movable and immovable assets worth the amount paid unduly to the Guptas. [It also includes] money in bank accounts both in South Africa and abroad, as well as property,” the prosecutor said.
Although it is currently unclear how prosecutors from the Asset Forfeiture Unit arrived at the R1.6 billion figure, City Press has established that R30 million of that amount relates to the failed dairy farm project through which the Free State provincial government handed a Gupta-linked company called Estina – whose sole director was an IT salesman with no farming experience – a free 99-year lease to a 4400-hectare farm outside Vrede. The Free State MEC for agriculture at the time was Zwane.
AmaBhungane reported last year that the Guptas funnelled R84 million of that money to a company in the United Arab Emirates.
The #GuptaLeaks also showed that a Gupta-owned company called Linkway Trading funnelled R30 million in cash earmarked for the Vrede dairy project to pay for the lavish Sun City wedding of their niece, Vega, and wrote it off as a “business expense”.
City Press was told that the application for a preservation order had taken this long because the Asset Forfeiture Unit had to secure cooperation from foreign governments in countries in which the Guptas have interests.
These “MLAs” – or applications for mutual legal assistance” – took months to secure.
Senior prosecutors also told City Press that the NPA waited for the outcome of the ANC’s leadership conference at Nasrec for a more conducive political environment in which to launch the application.
In his speech at the ANC’s 106th birthday celebration on Saturday, party president Cyril Ramaphosa called for the country’s law-enforcement agencies to act against those implicated in state capture.
“Strong and efficient law-enforcement agencies are critical to the fight against corruption and crime generally – and to the restoration of the integrity and legitimacy of the state,” he said.
“In this regard, the ANC is of the firm view that the country’s intelligence services, the police and prosecutorial authorities should be strengthened and fortified to act with professionalism and without fear, favour or prejudice.”
Before the application was filed in court, Asset Forfeiture Unit prosecutors were also incensed by the manner in which the Guptas had responded to the invitation to appear before the state capture inquiry underway by the parliamentary portfolio committee on public enterprises.
They also said that by launching the application they were on “country duty”, and acting in the best interests of South Africans.
The prosecutors referred to the letter sent to the committee by Goitseona Pilane Attorneys on behalf of Ajay Gupta in which he accuses Eskom’s suspended legal head Suzanne Daniels of lying under oath about a meeting she attended with him, Gupta business associate Salim Essa, Duduzane Zuma and deputy public enterprises minister Ben Martins.
At the meeting in July last year, Daniels said they discussed matters relating to former Eskom chief executive Brian Molefe. She testified that Ajay Gupta said he would contact the deputy chief justice to ensure that Molefe’s labour court hearing was postponed.
In the letter, Ajay Gupta threatened to report Daniels to Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete.
In another letter sent to the committee by Gani Mayet attorneys on Ajay Gupta’s behalf, he insisted his family had been “wrongfully implicated in wrongdoing directly or indirectly either individually or through family or business associations”, and that the inquiry needed to exercise “extreme caution” and test the allegations and allow everyone implicated an opportunity to respond.
Case coming for a long time
In October last year, the NPA asked City Press not publish the story “until the application is lodged and the order granted”.
The NPA said publishing any information relating to the matter would “not be in the interest of proper administration of justice” because applications for preservation orders such as this are urgent and ex parte – meaning they take place without the knowledge of those whose assets are being sought.
“If your article is published we would be required to give notice to the other party, they would then enter an appearance to defend and a long drawn out litigation process would ensue,” The NPA said.
At the time, other NPA insiders said there was massive pressure for action to be taken against the Gupta family.
“The politicians implicated are on the back foot. I don’t see the process being abandoned,” said one.
On Monday, NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku confirmed that the summons would be served on Tuesday.