Ajay and Atul Gupta File picture: Independent Media

JOHANNESBURG - The Gupta business group is opposing the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (OUTA) application to freeze the R1.75 billion mine rehabilitation funds for two of their coal mines.

OUTA's Chief Operating Officer, Ben Theron said that “0ur application is being opposed by the trustees, Pushpaveni Govender, Optimum Coal Mine (Pty) Ltd and Koornfontein Mines (Pty) Ltd. Whilst OUTA succeeded in preserving the trusts' funds as is evident from the interim court order, the merits of the matter are still to be fully ventilated in court on 7 and 8 December 2017”.

"Our legal team has prepared a strong case to keep the rehab funds frozen. It is important that actions of this nature be seen through to the end so as to ensure that the rehabilitation funds land up in the right hands and that they are used for their sole purpose of restoring the damaged environment," Theron said.

OUTA last week succeeded in obtaining an interim order from the Pretoria High Court which directs the Bank of Baroda to continue to hold the trust funds of the Optimum Mine Rehabilitation Trust and the Koornfontein Mine Rehabilitation Trust in interest-bearing accounts in the trusts' names.

Both the Bank of Baroda and Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane agreed to abide by the court's decision. Minister Zwane served an explanatory affidavit setting out the importance of safeguarding these trust funds.

According to the Mineral and Petroleum Resources Development Act and the National Environmental Management Act, mine rehabilitation funds cannot be used for purposes other than managing the environmental damage caused by mining activities. These funds must be used to restore and rehabilitate the damaged area when the mine gets to the end of its life.

The application was brought in the Pretoria High Court on September 21 just hours after the Guptas lost an urgent application to interdict the Bank of Baroda from closing their bank accounts. Since then, the Guptas have not only applied for leave to appeal the judgment closing their accounts but they also argued their further urgent application to keep their accounts open on 28 and 29 September.

Judgment was reserved until 9 October at the latest. In the interim, the Bank of Baroda was ordered to keep the other bank accounts, excluding the frozen rehab fund accounts, operational pending the judgment.