Gauteng / 17 February 2018, 08:59am / Shain Germaner and Reuters
Johannesburg - As fugitive Ajay Gupta continued to evade arrest on Friday, the Hawks have insisted that, contrary to various media reports, there is no manhunt for his brother, Atul.
Late on Friday, Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that investigators were still in negotiations with a security company “protecting” Ajay.
In an interview with Power FM, Mulaudzi said they knew Ajay was still in the country despite officials at OR Tambo international airport confirming on Friday morning that they had records of the recently-declared fugitive on a flight to Dubai from 10 days ago.
However, Mulaudzi insisted that the suspect had returned to South Africa, and investigators were currently engaging with the security company assisting him.
The three Gupta brothers, Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, also known as Tony, have been accused of using their friendship with recently ousted president Jacob Zuma to influence the appointment of cabinet ministers and to amass wealth.
They have denied any wrongdoing, as has Zuma. Ajay Gupta was declared “a fugitive from justice” by South Africa’s chief prosecutor earlier this week.
On Thursday, the SAPS launched a search for Ajay after he failed to report to law enforcement officials investigating alleged high-level influence-peddling in Zuma’s government involving the Gupta brothers.
The brothers face charges of fraud, money laundering and corruption emanating from investigations into the swindling of funds from the Estina dairy farm project in the Free State town of Vrede, which was meant to benefit emerging farmers.
Prosecutors last month called the project a “scheme designed to defraud and steal”.
Despite media reports suggesting that Atul Gupta, who was reportedly thwarted from fleeing the country by a Lanseria Airport pilot operating the private plane he was on, Mulaudzi said there was no hunt launched for him.
He also said other reports that a warrant of arrest had been issued for Atul were incorrect.
“For what charges?” Mulaudzi asked.
Meanwhile, forensic consultant Paul O’Sullivan has offered a R100 000 reward for information leading to the arrest of Ajay Gupta.
After Ajay was declared a fugitive from justice on Thursday, O’Sullivan sent an alert to the media and Hawks head Major-General Prince Mokotedi saying he would be willing to pony-up the money to ensure the interests of justice.
O’Sullivan told the Saturday Star on Friday that he believed the Gupta family had brought the country to its knees, and “now it’s payback time”.
He blamed the family for his own arrest last year on what was ultimately a spurious charge.
O’Sullivan was unceremoniously taken off an international flight in April 2016 for the alleged incorrect use of his foreign passport. While O’Sullivan was later vindicated, he claims the arrest came just days after he sent out an e-mail naming politicians and government officials he believed were linked to the Gupta family.
“I was arrested and tortured for four days, all because I wanted to expose the relationship between (former president Jacob) Zuma and the Guptas.
"I want that man (Ajay Gupta) to experience at least 40 years behind bars.
"I would love to see at least one of the Gupta family spend his life in prison,” he said.
O’Sullivan said that if anyone wished to provide his organisation, Forensics for Justice, a tip-off on the Guptas’ whereabouts, they can contact the toll-free hotline on 0800118118.
He said that some leads had already been reported and were already under investigation, though he added it would not be pertinent to elaborate on them in the media.
Also this week, eight people, several of whom have worked for Gupta companies, appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court in connection with an investigation into the siphoning off of public money from the state-backed Vrede dairy farm.
Among the eight were Varun Gupta, who was an executive director of the family's Shiva Uranium firm.
Zuma’s son, Duduzane, was a fellow director of Shiva.
Earlier this week, the Hawks raided Gupta properties in Joburg in connection with the Estina dairy farm project investigation.
The African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) welcomed the arrests linked with the Vrede dairy project in the Free State.
“In many cases, black farmers have unfairly been portrayed in a negative way following cases like Vrede, where large investments are lost in failed projects conceptualised by corrupt individuals in the name of black farmers," the association said.
“The Vrede case is a typical example of many projects where officials connive with other well-connected individuals masquerading as farmers, to swindle the government out of money meant for farmer development.
"Often these projects become white elephants.
"In the end, black farmers get a raw deal over these failures,” said Dr Vuyo Mahlati, the president of Afasa, on Friday.
“Corrupt individuals outside and inside government use such projects to siphon money from taxpayers, report huge investments for black farmers, while depriving the hard-working black farmers the support that they deserve.
"This has to stop,” Mahlati said. - Additional reporting by African News Agency (ANA)/Reuters