- A businessman with close ties to the Guptas, and three other former senior Free State government officials linked to the Estina dairy farm project, have appeared in court.
- They face charges of fraud, money laundering and contravening the Public Finance Management Act.
- Two of the accused were excused and returned to police cells. The other two accused are expected back in court later on Thursday.
Four people appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Thursday morning in connection with the failed R288 million Estina dairy farm project in Vrede, in the Free State.
Peter Thabethe, 55, Limakatso Moorosi, 58, Seipati Dlamini, 49, and Iqbal Sharma, 54, made a brief appearance. Thabethe and Sharma were excused and remanded in custody for their bail application on Monday, 7 June.
Dlamini and Moorosi, however, are expected to proceed with their bail applications at 14:00 on Thursday.
- Thabethe and Moorosi face a charge of contravening section 86(1) of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA).
- All four accused face a charge of fraud.
- Sharma and his company, Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, face a charge of money laundering, as well as an additional charge of fraud.
The four were arrested in the Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga on Wednesday.
Moorosi and Thabethe are former heads of the Free State Department of Agriculture. Dlamini was the department's chief financial officer.
News24 previously reported that Sharma, a businessman, was alleged to have been one of the kingpins of the Gupta network, which allegedly saw the looting of billions of rands from state-owned enterprises and government departments through shady business deals.
On Thursday morning, Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka told reporters outside court that Sharma's company was contracted to do a feasibility study on the success of Mohuma Mobung, a flagship Free State government project. The Estina dairy farm project and other agricultural projects were part of Mohuma Mobung.
The feasibility study contract was valued at more than R24 million.
According to Seboka, Nulane Investments purportedly subcontracted the feasibility study to Deloitte, who conducted the study for R1.5 million.
All money allegedly laundered
"We are alleging that in order to syphon money out, Nulane then subcontracted another company to purportedly do the same services Deloitte had already done, so the R19 million was paid to that company which had done nothing," Seboka said.
The matter has adjourned and will continue at 14:00 on Thursday.
The Free State government had conceived the project as a state-of-the-art dairy farm, which would have produced more than 100 kilolitres of milk per day. The project was aimed at empowering local residents and dairy farmers.
However, it later transpired that all the money paid to the Estina project was allegedly laundered through a series of bank accounts, seemingly ending up with the Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh.
The Gupta brothers, close friends and associates of former president Jacob Zuma, fled the country in 2018 and are reportedly in the United Arab Emirates.