State capture inquiry: Former Free State agriculture dept head to continue testimony

Peter Thabethe. (Xangaza, Daily Sun)
Peter Thabethe. (Xangaza, Daily Sun)

Former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe is expected back in the hot seat at the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday.

Thabethe will continue to testify about the Vrede dairy farm project at 10:00.

During his last appearance, Thabethe was unable to fully explain why he had allowed R29m to be removed from an account in the Estina dairy farm project before a full feasibility study could be completed, News24 reported.

Thabethe was grilled by Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and evidence leader, advocate Leah Gcabashe SC, for allowing R29m of R30m to be removed from an account.

He told the commission that the department was told the R29m was being reserved for equipment that was yet to be manufactured for the project.

However, Zondo questioned why the money was removed at all if a detailed feasibility study had not yet been completed at that stage in 2012.

He said Thabethe, as a chief financial officer for the department, was responsible for the fact that R29m was removed from public coffers.

"What was the rush? Why not do a final study, finish properly and then start involving more money? You are putting public money at risk now."

Thabete responded and said there was no rush, saying he had a contractual obligation to complete the project.

"I was convinced there was no problem. I had a contract and those things were part of my contract.

"Delaying those would have not been part of my contract. I had to work within the time frames of my contract."

The project was meant to see 100 black emerging farmers receive five cows each as part of an empowerment scheme.

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

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