State seeks arrest of Gupta brothers as Vrede dairy suspects appear in court

The Investigating Directorate has turned to Interpol to secure the arrest of Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their wives as a former business partner of Salim Essa and three former Free State officials appeared in court on charges linked to the Vrede dairy farm project.

Former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma and the three former provincial agriculture department officials appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Thursday on charges of tender fraud totalling R24-million.

The department paid the money to Sharma’s Nulane Investment 204, ostensibly to conduct a feasibility study for a flagship project, but instead it was shifted to the Gupta family’s Islandsite Investments, according to the indictment.

The prosecution alleges that Sharma and the former head of the Free State department of rural development, Peter Thabethe; the former head of the agriculture department, Limakatso Moorosi; and former chief financial officer for agriculture, Seipati Dhlamini, colluded to channel government funding to the Guptas.

The accused all face charges of fraud and money-laundering, and the former government officials face additional charges of contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

Sharma’s company was awarded the contract on the basis that it had special skills to perform the feasibility study for the Mohoma-Mobung project.

It, in fact, had no employees and subcontracted Deloitte to produce a report, at a price of R1.5-million. its only contribution to the report was then to identity the Paras Dairy as a suitable partner for setting up a milk-processing plant in Vrede.

The Investigating Directorate, which falls under the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), said it was opposing bail for the accused.

The fifth suspect, Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on 15 June for health reasons.

Investigating Directorate head Hermione Cronje said the NPA was formally applying to Interpol to assist with the execution of arrest warrants for the two Gupta brothers and their spouses, as well as Ankit Jain, former Nulane Investment Bank of Baroda account signatory; Ravindra Nath, the director of Wone Management; and Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh, the directors of Pragat Investments.

“The modus operandi used in this case appears to have been replicated in other government departments and projects. It is, therefore, critical that the evidence gathered in this matter is presented to court and a verdict obtained expeditiously,” Cronje said.

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