State capture inquiry chairman Judge Raymond Zondo. Picture: Simphiwe Mbokazi/African News Agency(ANA)

Johannesburg - The former head of the Free State agriculture department is expected to take the stand at the Zondo commission on Thursday morning regarding his involvement in the failed Vrede dairy farm project. 

Peter Thabethe, who headed up the Free State department of agriculture, has been linked closely with the project. He reported to Mosebenzi Zwane who was the MEC of agriculture in the Free State at the time. 

On Monday, the commission heard how Thabethe "hijacked" a council meeting on June 2012 at the Phumelela Municipality. He was allowed to make a presentation and began punting the dairy farm project as an upliftment project and also an investment opportunity for the municipality. 

He was requesting that the municipality allow them to lease a farm owned by the municipality. The farm was eventually leased to Estina, a Gupta linked company, rent-free for 99 years. 

The Vrede dairy farm project was established by the Free State government to help uplift underprivileged farmers in the area.
 
The project was allocated 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.

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The tender for the project was awarded to a company called Estina, which had links to the controversial Gupta family. The company was awarded the tender even though it had no history of running similar projects.
 
It was 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. It was alleged that Atul Gupta also received R10 million in his bank account.

Last year, Thabethe and a few Gupta associates were arrested and charged for their involvement in the project. In February 2018 his home and the Guptas' properties were raided. The charges were later provisionally withdrawn by the national prosecuting authority. 

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