Takisi Janki Masiteng, Ronica Raghavan and Varun Gupta are among eight suspects who appeared at the Bloemfontein Magistrate's court in connection with charges of fraud and corruption related to the controversial Vrede dairy farm project. Picture: Matthews Baloyi/African News Agency (ANA)

Johannesburg - Judgment has been reserved in the Estina dairy farm fraud case against the Gupta brothers’ nephew and associates.

The eight accused in the Estina dairy farm fraud case made an appearance at the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court on Friday. 

Those accused include Varun Gupta, a nephew of the Gupta brothers, Oakbay CEO Ronica Ragavan. Ashu Chawla a former Sahara executive, Estina director Kamal Vasram and former The New Age editor Nazeem Howa. Three Free State government officials, Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng were also charged. 

The group was charged with a string of crimes which include fraud, theft, conspiracy to commit fraud and theft. The charges relate to the infamous Estina dairy farm project where millions of rands destined for poor farmers were allegedly swindled by the Gupta family. They are all out on bail. 

The National Prosecuting Authority has asked for a postponement of the matter for three to six months as it said evidence was still being gathered for strengthening their case. 

Advocate Justice Bakamela for the state, told Magistrate Collin Nekosi the case was being delayed by trying to extradite information for the UAE and India. 
He said the state was not sitting doing anything for the past six months, but much progress had been made. 

Bakamela motivated for the postponement saying they had obtained 104 statements from witnesses in Gauteng, Free State and KwaZulu-Natal. And 310 bank statements have been obtained. 

“What is before the court is that these accused concocted a scheme involving national and international transactions. They created a complicated web of transactions," said Bakamela. 

Advocate Mike Hellens who represents four of the accused, which include the Gupta nephew and associates, opposed the state's postponement. 

Hellens stressed that the state had arrested his clients prematurely knowing that they had not gathered proper evidence to support their case. 

“We know that to charge someone you have to have prima facie evidence of wrongdoing,” said Hellens. 

Magistrate Nekosi reserved jugdment for Tuesday. 

The Estina dairy farm project was established by the Free State government to help uplift underprivileged farmers in the area.
 
The project was allocated over R220 million and only R2 million was spent on the farm. None of the people who were destined to benefit received anything from the project.
 
The tender for the project was awarded to a company called Estina, which has links to the Gupta family. The company was awarded the tender even though it had no history of running similar projects.
 
The Sunday Times reported how millions of rand that were paid to the Estina bank account were quickly paid out to various bank accounts belonging to Gupta owned companies. Atul Gupta also received R10 million in his bank account.

The NPA and the Hawks have been trying to build a case against the Gupta family and its associates with regards to alleged fraud committed with the project. 

The Hawks conducted numerous raids, the first was the raid at the Free State agriculture department and office of the premier. 

Another raid was conducted at the infamous Gupta compound in Saxonworld, where the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained a preservation order which froze R250 million worth of assets belonging to the Gupta family’s companies. 

But in May the High Court ruled against the NPA and found that there was not enough evidence to prove that the assets seized had any links to the millions from the Estina dairy farm project.