Trial of alleged Gupta associates under way, SARS investigator in hot seat

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Saliesh Indurjeeth and Kamal Vasram.
Saliesh Indurjeeth and Kamal Vasram.
  • The trial of Kamal Vasram and co-accused Saliesh Indurjeeth is currently underway in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court.
  • They were arrested in connection with the failed Estina dairy farm project. They are currently out on R10 000 bail each. 
  • The State called its first witness, a SARS investigator with 40 years' experience.  

An SA Revenue Services (SARS) employee has testified he was assigned to probe the R37.7 million fraud case linked to the Estina dairy farm project in 2019 during the State Capture Commission.

Investigator Piet Swart, who has been working in the customs environment for the past 40 years, testified at the trial of two alleged Gupta associates Kamal Vasram and co-accused Saliesh Indurjeeth.

The R37.7-million fraud trial is currently underway in the Pretoria Magistrate's Court.

The two are charged with fraud and the contravention of regulations on international trade administration and exchange control. They both pleaded not guilty to all charges against them.

Vasram and Indurjeeth were arrested early last year after they were "directly linked" to the failed dairy farm project.

According to the Investigating Directorate (ID), investigations revealed Estina submitted "customs clearance documents [a SAD 500 form and invoice} in support of a VAT refund claim".

ID spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said at the time "the customs declaration was then scrutinised, whereupon the declared value of over R37.7 million for a so-called 'new' pasteurisation plant was suspected to be excessively high". 

"The suspected overpriced pasteurisation plant, which was imported from India, was rather invoiced to Estina by Gateway Limited in the United Arab Emirates."

READ | The R25m money laundering case that got Gupta brothers arrested

Seboka added evidence that was already in the public domain suggested Gateway was used and controlled by the Guptas as a conduit to launder money and to extract funds from South Africa. 

"The State further alleges the overstated or inflated value was intentionally and unlawfully used by Estina and its sole director - Vasram - to launder funds from South Africa to the prejudice of the taxpaying public in general."

On Tuesday, Swart, who was in the hot seat, told the court the case was assigned to him in 2019 - five years after the equipment was imported.  

He said during his investigation, he requested information from Standard Bank, as the authorised dealer to provide SARS with documents.  

The information he requested included documents that were submitted to the bank for all foreign payments on behalf of Estina, Swart added. 

During his investigations, he also approached the Department of Trade and Industry to enquire whether Estina or its sole director had submitted an application for the issuing of an import permit.

Swart also spoke about two invoices, saying Estina applied to Standard Bank, as the authorised dealer, to transfer money out of the country to Gateway based on an invoice dated 15 September 2013 in the amount of US$3 448 800.

However, the first payment made was US$3 million five days later.

The second payment was US$348 800 which meant there was a shortfall of US$100 000, he said.  

Swart also focused his evidence on explaining how custom clearance documents were submitted via SARS' electronic data information (EDI) system by UTI as the clearing agent on behalf of Estina. 

Special report | The GuptaLeaks

In the charge sheet, the State alleged on 5 December 2013 and 18 March 2014, the two accused instructed and/or caused the clearing agent to electronically submit a bill of entry for importation.

The bill of entry was transmitted to SARS via the EDI system.  

"By doing so, the accused declared to SARS that the goods imported were, amongst others, new and valued at US$3 448 800 (R37 718 634)."

While Swart was asked to explain certain documents, there were several objections from the defence team who said the State was "wasting time" by pursuing this line of questioning.

They added Swart should not offer his own opinion on the matter.  

Advocate Jaap Cilliers for Vasram said: "… It is not for a witness who was not involved in the creation of a document to explain the documentation."

But the State rubbished claims it was wasting time.  

The trial continues on Wednesday.

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