Ruling expected on Vrede restraint application

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Some of the Estina accused appear before court. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24, file)
Some of the Estina accused appear before court. (Jeanette Chabalala, News24, file)

The Free State High Court in Bloemfontein is on Monday expected to rule on the freezing of R180m in assets of eight people accused of fraud and other charges, relating to the multimillion-rand Estina dairy farm project.

Gupta-linked companies recently challenged a provisional restraint order which the Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained against the eight in April, while a criminal case against them is pending.

The eight were arrested during raids at various locations in February, including the Gupta compound in Saxonwold and their offices in Sandton.

SPECIAL REPORT: #GuptaLeaks

They are Estina director Kamal Vasram, former directors at the Guptas' holding company Oakbay - Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa and Ashu Chawla - and Free State officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng.

Luxury vehicles, immovable properties and bank accounts are some of the assets which are subject to the provisional restraint order.

Scandalous transactions

AFU financial investigator Nkosiphendule Mrandla submitted in court papers that - on the basis of the evidence - the respondents received and retained various amounts of money as a result of their alleged unlawful activities.

In an affidavit, Ragavan who is the acting chief executive officer of Oakbay Investments Limited alleged that the National Director of Public Prosecutions' (NDPP's) restraint application was deficient because it was based on hearsay.

She said that, while the charge sheet provided details regarding the alleged roles played by various accused in the Estina dairy project, the applicants (companies) were not described as playing a role.

"The NDPP states that the realisable property referred to in the restraint order has an estimated value of R180m. The property of applicants comprises a substantial portion of that property," she said.

An affidavit revealed that the Free State's agricultural department - which was then under the leadership of former 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 #GuptaLeaks 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.

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