Estina dairy farm project an example of organised robbery, Peter Hain tells Zondo commission

Lord Peter Hain. (Carin Smith, Fin24)
Lord Peter Hain. (Carin Smith, Fin24)

British MP Lord Peter Hain has described the collapsed Estina dairy farm project as one of the examples of organised robbery by the controversial Gupta family. 

Testifying at the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture on Monday, Hain said: "The Estina dairy farm's infamous project was one of the clearest examples of organised robbery from some of the poorest people in South Africa."  

He added despite the fact that government funds were leaving South Africa to a company owned by the Guptas - with no explanation provided regarding the suspicious payment structure - Standard Chartered Bank (SCB) was guilty of facilitating criminality by the Guptas and their associates. 

Hain claimed Standard Chartered never came forward to assist in tracking the money and to identify where it went.

However, in response to Hain's witness statement, which was read out by evidence leader advocate Paul Pretorius SC, the bank denied the allegation. It said it had made the necessary disclosures to appropriate authorities in a number of jurisdictions. 

READ: International banks enabled Gupta corruption and looting, Peter Hain tells Zondo commission

It also said Standard Chartered Bank United Arab Emirates had made the necessary disclosures in accordance with its local regulatory obligations in relation to accounts with apparent connection to the Guptas. 

"I confirm SCB's commitment to working with the South African regulators and anti-crime organisation to combat corruption and financial crimes," read part of the affidavit. 

But Hain said he did not accept that its Dubai bank was complying with the local regulations because "clearly criminality went on there, laundering and robbery was facilitated by Standard Chartered". 

"Why was that money not returned to South African taxpayers?  

"The money left the Standard Chartered Johannesburg account, the Guptas moved it through various concealed ways through that account to the Dubai account. There was a financial pipeline between the two."  

The Estina dairy farm had been one of the most controversial transactions between the Guptas and a government entity. It was gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department. 

One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme but never received them, News24 previously reported. 

Last year, the #GuptaLeaks revealed how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

On Monday, Hain also told the commission that the country's authorities were not pursuing asset recovery with the urgency that was required.     

"My concern is that the South African authorities, the government and its agencies are not pursuing with the urgency that is needed and this money is being spent," he said.

Hain added although he understands that the Guptas were being investigated by the Indian authorities, no funds had been repatriated by the authorities back to South Africa. 

Hain, who was born in South Africa, is a former UK Labour Party Cabinet minister. He had written to UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid to follow the US' lead and impose a series of debilitating sanctions on the controversial Gupta family, according to News24.

Last month, the US Treasury announced that the three Gupta brothers - Ajay, Atul and Tony - as well family lieutenant Salim Essa had been blocked from transacting, doing business or engaging in any financial dealings with any US entity or person.

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