Ajay and Atul Gupta File picture: Independent Media

Bloemfontein – Court documents that came to light this week have exposed how the notorious politically-connected Gupta family, along with high ranking politicians and government employees, milked the country and skimmed from the poor through a multi-million rand dairy farm deal in the Free State.

The looting is revealed in a preservation order granted to the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) on Thursday by Free State High Court Judge Fouche Jordaan.

The court ordered that an amount not exceeding R220,202,652 “which constitutes proceeds of crime” could be seized by the AFU from various bank accounts linked to the Estina dairy project in Vrede in the Free State.

The vast sum of money was paid in seven tranches between April 2013 and May 2016. Soon after it had been deposited into the dairy project’s accounts, the money was transferred to the accounts of several other Gupta-linked companies.

Nkosiphendule Mradla, the AFU prosecutor who filed the preservation order in the Free State High Court, said the evidence submitted to the court revealed that the “entire project, including the very land on which it was located, were merely part of the necessary packaging that was required to achieve the ultimate aim and objective of swindling the department of the funds”.

“The respective parties worked jointly... with the ultimate purpose of forcing the department to make financial commitments in a business idea that was in clear failure from the outset. In the circumstances, I submit that the entire project, including the land it was located on, were instrumentalities of the evident theft, fraud, and money laundering,” said Mradla.

The “grounds for urgency” for the preservation rested on the “identified role players [appearing] to have extensive presence and footprint in several jurisdictions” where they operate businesses and accounts which could “make the repatriation of the said funds impossible”.

“The said amount was paid into several bank accounts, including offshore accounts, held by identified entities and individuals. [The] evidence shows that the funds were essentially siphoned out of the Estina’s bank account and laundered through several bank accounts held by aforesaid persons and entities,” Mradla said.

The AFU application further said a substantial portion of the funds were located in several accounts held with the Bank of Baroda, and that those accounts were linked to the Guptas and their companies.

The Estina dairy project, supposedly established to benefit emerging black farmers, was set up while Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was MEC for agriculture in the province.

The Zwane-led agricultural department signed the Vrede dairy farm agreement with Estina on July 5, 2012. Estina (Pty) Ltd’s sole director and shareholder was Kamal Vasram, a former sales manager at another Gupta-owned business, Sahara Computers. Vasram paid himself R4 million from the project coffers.

The AFU application details how Atul Gupta personally benefited to the tune of R10 million while further stating “there was no justification for the payment of an amount of R14.5 million to Oakbay Investments as its core business is not agriculture”. Oakbay Investment’s is one of the Gupta family’s main business vehicles in South Africa.

Investigators uncovered that the Free State agricultural department’s appointment of Estina was “unlawful” and “clearly preceded by a series of false and fraudulent misrepresentations, including the circumvention of the department’s supply chain management processes”.

The investigators concluded, “...despite the payment being made to Estina, no value for money or benefit passed on to the department and or its intended beneficiaries. No credible explanation or justification can exist for appointing Estina, which had little or no farming or related... experience.”

The order went further and said no control mechanisms were put in place to ensure the funds were used for the intended purpose of running a dairy farm.

“All indications from the findings of the investigations are that Estina’s appointment was pushed through at great costs and that it was identified as the preferred bidder from the outset without any attempt to first test the market. Little or no effort was made to test the market by finding other competitive bids.”

Zwane is set to appear before parliament’s mineral resources committee on Wednesday after failing to appear in November.

African News Agency/ANA