With Ajay Gupta skipping the country and avoiding arrest for his involvement in the Estina dairy case, Parliament called on the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) to explain why the investigation into the farm was put on ice in December.
National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) Shaun Abrahams was in Parliament on Wednesday morning to explain why arrests for those implicated in the 2013 Estina state capture saga were only signed off on February 13 2018.
Last week, acting Hawks head Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata said the Hawks had a docket ready for their investigation into the Vrede dairy farm case in November 2017, but that her team only received the go-ahead to make arrests in February.
Addressing the Joint Portfolio Committee on Police and Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, Abrahams disputed that a docket was ready by November.
He said that the case had not been fully investigated because a prima facie case, that was accepted by both the NPA and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), could not be established on available evidence.
According to Abrahams, the NPA waited for a strong case and manpower before going forward with an arrest.
However, Abrahams admitted that his team did break for the festive season on December 7.
Members of parliament have accused Abrahams for bungling the investigation into the Estina case, saying that it was obvious that the Guptas, former president Jacob Zuma and his son were “special cases” and “flight risks”.
Democratic Alliance MP Glynnis Breytenbach said “The Guptas, and at least Duduzane Zuma, are widely known to have assets abroad — considerable assets abroad — homes, access to private aircraft.” [and] on their own admission, have more than one passport.”
She added that it would have made sense to restrict their movement and their ability to leave the country because of their assets overseas.
When Abrahams was given the right to respond to the MPs, he spoke about the extradition of foreign nationals and the structure of the NPA.
Abrahams informed Parliament that investigations into the Estina project are still ongoing, suggesting that there may be further arrests, if the NPA can gather solid prima facie evidence.
He said that he wanted the matter with the Estina case to be investigated as speedily as possible before the case of the eight suspects is heard on August 17 2018.
However, he went onto say that the NPA could not apply for extradition on foreign nationals, referring to members of the Gupta family who do not have South African passports, because it would then prevent the NPA from charging the individuals with other state capture crimes that they are involved with.
Abrahams told the joint committee that the Estina dairy farm was “just one of the eight legs of state capture investigations with another seven legs still being investigated”.
The NPA has been under fire over the length of its investigation into Estina, a farm in the agricultural town of Vrede in the Free State, which ended up funding a Gupta wedding in Sun City in 2013.
#GuptaLeaks in 2017 revealed how the Free State’s department of agriculture, headed then by Mosebenzi Zwane, gave the Gupta-linked company Estina a 99-year lease on the dairy farm with R220-million for an empowerment project which should have given black farmers a 51% share.
Eight suspects who are implicated in the dairy project were arrested on February 14 and appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s court. Peter Thabethe, Dr Tikisi Masiteng and Sylvia Dlamini were each granted bail of R10 000, while Gupta-linked suspects Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa and Ashu Chawla were each granted R200 000 bail.
A week later, Estina director Kamal Vasram was later released on bail of R100 000.
Former minister Mosebenzi Zwane has yet to be charged for his role in the case. Ajay Gupta remains a fugitive.