Former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe. Photo: SABC screengrab/YouTube.

Johannesburg - The Zondo commission will on Tuesday morning continue hearing evidence on the failed Estina dairy farm project. 

Last week the former Free State agriculture department head Peter Thabethe faced questions regarding the Vrede project and why an Indian company was chosen to assist with the project. 

Thabethe will continue with his evidence on Tuesday morning.

On Thursday, Thabethe detailed how he spearheaded the now failed Vrede dairy farm project and how he did “desktop” research to find the best dairy producing company to partner with on the project meant to uplift underprivileged farmers. 

He said he settled on Paras Dairy, an Indian company, which he said was the best choice to partner with on the project because the company collected dairy from small producers which was what his department had planned to do. 

On Friday, he detailed how he travelled to India with an Ashok Narayan, who he said was an advisor to premier Ace Magashule. He said Narayan was helpful on the trip as a translator between the Paras representatives in New Delhi and him. 

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Thabethe said he was quite satisfied with the outcome of the trip and a representative from Paras flew down to South Africa to talk further on the project. He said it was then that it was decided that Paras would need a local partner if it was to do business with the provincial government. 

He said it was then that Estina came into the picture as a local partner for Paras.

Thabethe battled to answer questions on whether he had interrogated Estina as the perfect partner for the project. 

He maintained that locally they checked on the company’s registration and tax compliance which was the only things that needed to be a line before a business deal could take place with the government. 

Zondo appeared unconvinced by the explanation and pressed Thabethe on why a more an in-depth investigation was not done on Estina and whether it was legal or not.

The Vrede dairy farm project was allocated over R200 million by the Free State government. Only 2% of the funds were allocated to the project and none of the small farmers who were meant to benefit saw any of the funds. 

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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