State granted lengthy postponement in Estina dairy farm case

The Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Tuesday granted the State’s request for a lengthy postponement in the Estina dairy farm case.

Free State National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phaladi Shuping said the case had been postponed to December 4.

Varun Gupta, the nephew of the controversial Gupta brothers, Oakbay CEO Ronica Ragavan, former Sahara executive Ashu Chawla, former TNA media executive Nazeem Howa, Estina director Kamal Vasram and three Free State provincial government officials – Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng – appeared in court on Tuesday.

The eight were granted bail in February this year.

READ MORE: The state’s case against the Guptas and co.

They were arrested on charges of fraud, theft, conspiracy to commit fraud and theft, contravening the Public Finance Management Act, contravening the Companies Act, and contravening sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act in connection with the alleged theft of R250-million linked to the Estina dairy farm project in Vrede.

Advanced investigation

On Friday, prosecutor Justice Bakamela asked the court to grant a three- to six-month postponement for further investigation, to allow for the finalisation of financial reports.

Bakamela told the court that more than 300 bank statements had been obtained and that he was awaiting information from authorities in Dubai and India, pending the finalisation of Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) agreements.

In support of this, he presented an affidavit by the Hawks investigating officer, who sought to outline the processes followed since the previous appearance in February, and a letter from the Department of Justice confirming that it was in the process of finalising MLA agreements with authorities in Dubai and India.

Under questioning from Magistrate Collin Nekosi, Bakamela was at pains to commit to a timeline for this process to be finalised.

He said the investigation was at an advanced stage.

Two defence counsel brought motions to oppose the application for postponement, led by advocate Mike Hellens SC who is representing Chawla, Ragavan and Gupta.

Hellens cast serious doubt on the integrity of the NPA’s case in his lengthy argument against the postponement.

Hellens asked the court to strike the matter from the roll and scrap bail conditions while the NPA and Hawks finalised their investigation.

Bakamela said he required the comfort of three or five months more – but if the information from international authorities was forthcoming before this date, he would approach the accused and the court to set a trial date. — News24

Kyle Cowan
Kyle Cowan

Kyle Cowan is an investigative journalist at News 24.

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