Advocate Wim Trengove, for the state chatting with Advocate Michael Hellens who is representing the applicants, in the Free State High Court. Picture: Andrew Moses

Bloemfontein - Some of South Africa's best legal minds will square-off in the Free State High Court Thursday morning in the case in which Gupta-linked companies and individuals want to stop a new preservation order targeting their properties worth about R250 million.

Advocate Wim Trengove SC who has represented clients in high profile cases, is appearing for the State, while Advocates Michael Hellens SC and Rafik Bhana are acting for the Gupta-linked companies and individuals.

The application was brought by Oakbay Investments (Pty) Ltd acting chief executive officer Ronica Ragavan on behalf of Oakbay, Aerohaven (Pty) Ltd, Westdawn Investments (Pty) Ltd, and Annex Distribution (Pty) Ltd. 

Read: State insists more Gupta-linked assets should be preserved

Gupta-linked companies want preservation order set aside

Ragavan is an implicated party in the matter and is also representing company director Ashu Chawla and former director Varun Gupta in the matter after the NDPP successfully applied on April 11, for a provisional order to preserve more assets belonging to the applicants.

The matter was postponed last Thursday when the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) asked for time to prepare, saying the matter was complex and wanted senior counsel to handle it.

In the application, Ragavan is seeking the discharge of all parties, saying the State will not be able to achieve a conviction against them.

She wants the court to dismiss NDPP's bid to freeze assets which include 43 residential‚ farm and business properties‚ two aircraft‚ a helicopter‚ a Porsche‚ a Lamborghini‚ Range Rovers plus several other cars and the bank accounts belonging to the companies.

The value of the assets was initially put at about R180 million but in its replying affidavit filed last Friday, the State indicated that the figure could go up to R250 million if all parties were convicted.

The applicants are facing criminal charges relating to the Vrede Integrated Dairy Project where millions of rands meant to benefit emerging black farmers in the Free State were allegedly misappropriated. 

They were arrested together with several other people and appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on February 18. That matter has been postponed to August 17.

The Acting Special Director of Public Prosecutions Motlalekhotso Knorxx Molele has said in his responding papers that State is confident it has a strong case against the accused as it has done everything required to come up with a conviction.

Molele says all the applicants are in some way connected with the Gupta family and that the NDPP will prove that 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," says NDPP.

The project was set up by the Free State Agriculture Department to 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 provincial agriculture department to Estina.

In her papers, Ragavan states that the applicants will demonstrate that the NDPP's case for a restraint order is entirely deficient as it is based on hearsay, is incomplete, inaccurate and contains misleading allegations.

"Had the NDPP bothered to ask the applicants or to perform any objective and unbiased investigation, it would have had the benefit of these explanations for the flow of funds before it felt compelled to arrest the applicants and bring this restraint application," argues Ragavan in the court papers.

Ragavan describes the move by the NDPP as ill-advised and tantamount to abuse of power.

Presiding Judge Phillip Jacobus Loubser ordered the NDPP to pay the costs for last week’s court sitting after the applicants motivated that the State had wasted both time and material resources by requesting a postponement.