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. File picture: Matthews Baloyi / ANA
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. File picture: Matthews Baloyi / ANA

State insists more Gupta-linked assets should be preserved

By Andrew Moses Time of article published May 14, 2018

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Bloemfontein - The National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) believes there is a reasonable prospect of obtaining a conviction against Gupta linked companies and individuals implicated in the misappropriation of funds in the Vrede Integrated Dairy Project.

In papers filed late Friday in the Free State High Court, acting Special Director of Public Prosecutions Motlalekhotso “ Knorx ” Molelle says the State's case to have about R180 million believed to be criminal proceeds from the dairy project remains a good one as they are confident they have done everything required to find the accused guilty.

Molelle said this in response to an application submitted by Oakbay Investments (Pty) Ltd acting chief executive officer Ronica Ragavan on behalf of the companies and the individuals, seeking to be discharged from a provisional restraint order.

Those implicated and are the applicants in the case include: Oakbay Investments; director, Ashu Chawla; former director, Varun Gupta, Ragavan herself, Aerohaven Trading (Pty) Ltd, Westdawn Investments (Pty) Ltd and Annex Distribution (Pty) Ltd.

The matter is set to be heard in the Bloemfontein court on Thursday.

Molelle says all the applicants are in some way connected with the Gupta family and that the NDPP will prove that the applicants acted in common purpose and conspired to milk the dairy project.

It is only logical and a reasonable conclusion to draw that all of the applicants form part of the larger Gupta-related empire reads part of the NDPP response which details the alleged involvement of the applicants.

The project was set up by the Free State Agriculture department assist emerging black farmers in and around the town of Vrede get into dairy farming.

The project was to be run by Estina (Pty) Ltd, a Gupta-linked company. The NDPP says a total of R250.2 million was paid by the Free State Department of Agriculture to Estina.

It says that is presently the maximum amount subject to confiscation should the applicants be convicted at the end of the criminal proceedings.

They also benefitted from Estina's unlawful actions, either having themselves received illicit funds from Vasram or Estina. or at least knew by virtue of their directorships and shareholdings in the various Gupta-related entities, that Estina's were not above board and yet profited from them, Molelle adds.

This is the second attempt by the NDPP to gain control of the assets of the applicants on grounds that the applicants were allegedly complicit in suspected unlawful activities involving the Vrede Intergrated Dairy Project.

The first attempt was by way of a preservation order issued by the same court on January 18 under a section of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (POCA).

But on March 9 the court amended the January order in a number of material respects and discharged some of parties.

The applicants insist the state case is weak because it is ill-advised and tantamount to abuse of power.

Ragavan argues that the founding affidavit used by the NDPP to obtain the provisional restraint order contains multiple errors, hearsay evidence and makes conclusions on the applicants without any concrete facts.

Molelle however elaborates in his response how each of the applicants is believed to have played a part in the alleged looting of funds from the dairy project.

At the time of the alleged crimes, dating back to April 2013, Ragavan is said to have been a director of Islandsite, a company which holds 40% shareholding in Oakbay Investments.

At the same time, Oakbay is said to own 70.59% of Westdawn, believed to have received part of the funds from the dairy project.

Ragavan was also a director of Oakbay, Westdawn, Aerohaven and Annex.

Chawla was also a director of Islandsite, Oakbay and Confident Concept (Pty) Ltd.

Varun Gupta was a director of Oakbay from October 1, 2012 to march 1, 2016.

The Department of Agriculture is said to have deposited a total of R143 950 000.00 into Estina's

Standard Bank account between April 18, 2013 and July 25, 2014.

The first amount transferred to Estina by the provincial agriculture department was R34 950 000.00.

The following day, April 19, Estina transferred R10 million to a composite account held at the Bank of Baroda.

The immediately credited Estina's fixed deposit account at the bank with the R10 million.

There was an initial R517 914.85 in that account.

On the same day, the Bank of Baroda transferred R5 million to an Absa account belonging to Oakbay at the instruction of Kamal Vasram in his capacity as director of Estina. This, according the NDPP, was despite the fact that Oakbay was not involved in an agricultural activities.

Oakbay further distributed the money: Islandsite received R3.6 million; subsidiaries - Shiva Uranium, R1 million and Tegeta, R1 million.

The Islandsite R3.6 million was further transferred to Sahara Computers, owned by the Guptas as well as the State Bank of India in the amounts of R2.35 million and R1.25 million respectively.

The transactions marked the beginning of a series of others which the NDPP says were illicit and an organised craft to steal from the state.

There is no justification for payment to Aerohaven as its core business is not agriculture, but general trading in all aspects.

The director of Aerohaven is Ragavan who has no work background in agriculture, argues Molele.

The NDPP also argues that it was incorrect, as suggested by the applicants that, identical evidence was relied upon in this application as to that relied upon to obtain the preservation application and that there was no abuse of power intended.

The evidence presented to court on this occasion went much further than it did in the preservation application as a result of further investigations performed.

There is also no abuse or ulterior motive in bringing this application. The NDPP holds the view that there are reasonable grounds for believing that a confiscation order may be made, says the NDPP.

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