First direct blow against Guptas

A preservation order has been granted against yet another Gupta-linked business: the Estina farm in the Free State, and this time the court directly names Atul Gupta as a beneficiary of money made through criminal means.

The order was given by the Free State high court in Bloemfontein on Thursday, where Judge AF Jordaan ordered that money “not exceeding” an amount of R220 202 652.00 be preserved. The money is described in the order as being the “proceeds of crime”.

Jordaan found that R220-million was paid to Estina from two different bank accounts. The court then says that, from Estina, the money was then transferred to 15 different recipients, including Atul Gupta.

An amount of R10-million was transferred to Gupta, according to the order. The list of recipients also includes Gupta-linked companies Oakbay Investments, VR Laser and Linkway Trading.

READ MORE: Dairy farm puts Guptas directly in firing line

Jordaan also ordered that “the remaining extent of the farm Krynaauws Lust 275, district Vrede” in the Free State, be preserved. The land measures approximately 4 440 hectares.

The court has already appointed a curator who will have authority to investigate the assets to be preserved, and who will have a duty to preserve them. Those who have any of the assets in their possession have been ordered by the court to surrender them to the custody of the curator or they will be seized by law enforcement if the curator instructs it.

The court has ordered that the farm, meanwhile, may not be mortgaged or sold in execution.

The Estina-Gupta link

Estina is best known as a dairy farm project that was allegedly looted by Gupta associates to pay for a lavish Sun City wedding in 2013, apparently with help from accountants at global auditing giant KPMG.

In 2013, investigative journalists at amaBhungane showed that the Free State provincial government, under Premier Ace Magashule, had partnered with a private company, Estina, to develop a dairy farm project in Vrede that would supposedly uplift poor farmers.

It later emerged that Estina and the Guptas shared offices. The family, however, said one of its companies had only briefly acted as subcontractor on the Estina project with a contract value of only R138 000, and Estina bluntly denied a Gupta link.

By October 2013, it would later emerge, the national treasury was already investigating the project, only to find that the province had done no due diligence on its new partner, had followed no discernible supply-chain procedures, and had simply deposited very large sums into Estina’s bank account with no apparent knowledge of how the money would be spent.It was during the treasury investigation that it emerged the project had been conceived, at least in part, by one Mosebenzi Zwane, then Free State MEC for agriculture, who had subsequently pushed it strongly.

National Treasury’s investigation also found that the agriculture department, under Zwane, did not perform a due diligence on Estina’s claimed partner in the deal – a major dairy company in India known as Paras. Magashule’s legal advisor was also found to have penned the contract between Estina and the provincial agriculture department in Estina’s favour.

The #GuptaLeaks later revealed that money from Estina was transferred into the Dubai account of a Gupta-linked shell company known as Gateway. It was then reportedly paid into two other Gupta-linked bank accounts from where it would eventually be transferred to pay for the Sun City wedding.

But it remains unclear if the courts will confirm the link between Estina and the infamous wedding.

Earlier last week, City Press broke the news that the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority had secured an order to preserve R1.6-billion in assets from McKinsey and Trillian.

While McKinsey and Trillian have been served with the orders, it is the Estina order that is the first to directly implicate a Gupta family member. 

Raeesa Pather
Raeesa Pather
Ra’eesa Pather is a Cape Town-based general news and features journalist.
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