File. Gupta brothers, Ajay and Atul

Bloemfontein – Controversial businessman Atul Kumar Gupta and six other applicants including Indian state-owned Bank of Baroda on Thursday sought the removal of the preservation orders slapped on them by the Free State High Court following an application by the Asset Forfeiture Unit.

Atul Gupta, who is a close associate of former president Jacob Zuma, is also joined in his application by Aerohaven Trading (PTY) Limited, Oakbay Investments (PTY) Limited, Westdawn Investments (PTY) Limited, Annex Distribution (PTY) Limited, Islandsite Investments One Hundred, and Eighty (PTY) Limited.

The applicants asked the high court to set aside preservation orders - that include a freeze on R10 million in Gupta’s bank account - saying that none of the "property" placed under the order were proceeds of crime. 

However, Motlalekhotso Knorx Molelle the acting director of public prosecutions was opposing the application because “a substantial body of evidence had been advanced through investigations".

Also read: Atul Gupta in court to challenge freezing of R10m

The applicants told the court that there was no proof that the property put under preservation had been acquired through unlawful means.

Atul Gupta, who is out of the country, was represented by Advocate Rafik Bhana. The Bank of Baroda has legal eagle Luc Spiller on its side, while Aerohaven, Oakbay, Westdawn and Annex Distribution have roped in advocate Michael Hellens. 

Lawyers for Atul Gupta, Bank of Baroda and the one representing the companies argued their clients were treated unfairly by having their funds frozen following the court order yet there was no clear indication of their involvement

Advocate Thato Ntimutse is acting for the National Prosecuting Authority.

The matter, which is linked to the Vrede dairy farm where millions of rand meant for the empowerment of poor locals were allegedly siphoned off for the benefit of the Guptas, resumes on Friday.  

Prosecutors will put their case opposing the challenge to the preservation order.

Last month, seven people appeared in court accused of fraud theft and corruption related to the Vrede dairy. They included state officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng, who were both released on R10,000 bail each. Other suspects Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa and Ashu Chawla were each granted R200,000 bail.

Estina director Kamal Vasram was also in the dock.

Read more: #VredeDairy case: These are the accused and the charges they face

Atul Gupta's big brother Ajay, who is also out of the country, is wanted by South African authorities in connection with a different matter.

African News Agency/ANA