/ 15 June 2021

Sharma’s brother-in-law granted bail in Free State farming case

Iqbal Sharma And Co Accused Appear In Court Over Estina Dairy Project In Bloemfontein
Former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma appears at the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on June 07, 2021 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. It is reported that the suspects were arrested in connection with the failed R288 million Estina dairy project. (Photo by Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungusi Louw)

Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law was released on bail by the Bloemfontein magistrates’ court on Tuesday after he appeared on fraud and money-laundering charges linked to a R25-million deal that paved the way for the corrupt Vrede dairy farm project.

Dinesh Patel was granted bail of R10 000.

He was not in court due to ill health earlier this month when Sharma, a key associate of the Gupta brothers and former Transnet board member, and four former high-ranking Free State government employees appeared in connection with a feasibility study the provincial department commissioned from Nulane Investments.

The rest of the accused include Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their wives, whose extradition the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate is seeking from Dubai. 

Nulane Investments, which was owned by Sharma, had no staff yet it was paid R25-million to deliver a feasibility report regarding the Free State’s flagship Mohoma Mobung agriculture project on the basis that it had special skills required to do the work.

Nulane Investments subcontracted Deloitte to produce the report, at a cost of R1.5 million, and then changed its name to Paras, named as the most suitable implementing partner for setting up a milk processing plant in Vrede.

According to the indictment, the balance of the money was shifted to the Gupta family’s Islandsite Investments. 

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.

Nulane Investment and Islandsite Investments Pty Ltd are listed as co-accused in the matter. 

Sharma, Patel and the former Free State officials will return to court on 5 July when the matter is expected to be transferred to the high court in Bloemfontein.

The Investigating Directorate has formally applied to Interpol to assist with the execution of arrest warrants for the two Gupta brothers and their spouses, as well as Ankit Jain, the 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.

Sharma was denied bail because he has amassed wealth abroad and is considered a flight risk.