Iqbal Sharma. Screengrab: NPA’s Investigating Directorate
Iqbal Sharma. Screengrab: NPA’s Investigating Directorate

Witnesses lined up to testify in Estina dairy court case

By Kailene Pillay Time of article published Jun 8, 2021

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Johannesburg - Witnesses, including government officials, are ready to testify against those accused of massive looting from the failed R288 million Estina dairy farm project that has been linked to money laundering and state capture by the Gupta family.

The State prosecutor at the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court, Jacyntha Witbooi, has told the courts that the investigation into the alleged money laundering and fraud by Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma, former Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (FSDARD) head Peter Thabethe, former head of Free State Department of Agriculture (FSDA), Limakatso Moorosi and former FSDA chief financial officer, Seipati Dhlamini, was complete.

Witbooi told Magistrate Estelle de Lange that the Free State province was the most looted province by the Gupta family, and that Thabethe and the rest of the accused who were employed by the department had, contributed significantly to the capture and looting in the province.

“We cannot disregard the people of the Free State province. We cannot say that the people of the Free State province do not have any interest in this matter.

"It is not in the interests of justice to release the applicant on bail,” Witbooi said.

She made the plea during Thabethe’s bail application on Monday morning.

“The State submits that the pattern shows a propensity on the part of Thabethe to commit a Schedule 1 offence. I respectfully submit that should Thabethe be released on bail in this matter … that has a likelihood of undermining and jeopardising the proper functioning of the criminal justice system, including the bail system," she said.

However, Magistrate De Lange granted Thabethe R10 000 bail on condition that he surrender his passport and ensure he appear at court for all his cases.

Sharma’s bail application was postponed to Tuesday after the State said it needed more time to work on its response to his “voluminous” affidavit.

Thabethe and Sharma were arrested last Wednesday and have been in police custody since. They are among 15 accused who face charges related to defrauding the FSDA.

The fraud is in connection with a R25 million feasibility study in 2011 that was irregularly granted to Nulane Investment – a company owned and controlled by Sharma. The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months. Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting for R1.5m.

It then subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to Gateway Limited and paid them more than R19m.

"We are alleging that in order to syphon money out, Nulane then subcontracted another company to purportedly do the same services Deloitte had already done, so the R19m was paid to that company which had done nothing," said Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka.

According to the NPA, from there the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.

The NPA’s Investigating Directorate alleged that Sharma, Thabethe, former head of FSDA, Limakatso Moorosi, and former FSDA chief financial officer Seipati Dhlamini colluded to divert funds earmarked for rural development in the province to be used by the Gupta family as they wished.

Moorosi and Dhlamini were granted R10 000 bail each last Thursday.

The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering. The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

The fifth suspect in the matter, Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on June 15, 2021, owing to health reasons.

They are charged together with the companies Nulane Investment 204, Wone Management, Pragat Investment and Islandsite Investments. The balance of the accused listed in the charge sheet were not currently in South Africa, said Seboka.

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Political Bureau

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