Many of the eight Gupta-linked accused who stood before the Bloemfontein Regional Court on Thursday had been identified by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit in preservation orders they had obtained last month
Kamal Vasrum, Ashu Chawla, Nazeem Howa, Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Peter Thabethe, Dr Takisi Masiteng and Seipati Dlamini, as well as the companies Estina Pty Ltd and Oakbay Investments are facing 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.
Seven of the eight accused are out on bail. The last bail application is to be heard on Monday.
The National Prosecuting Authority last month seized control of the Estina Dairy Farm near Vrede in the Free State, the bank accounts of Atul Gupta and companies co-owned by Duduzane Zuma, as well as other entities in the Gupta empire.
In his affidavit before court, AFU head of operations, advocate Knorx Molelle, revealed how the Free State’s agricultural department – under then MEC Mosebenzi Zwane – paid R220m to the Guptas in what the AFU called a “scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department”.
The farm, that was gifted to the Gupta-linked Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the Free State agriculture department, was one of the most scandalous transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.
Molelle said an irregular government process, including fraudulent assistance from government officials, led to the Guptas scoring a farm they had no intention of developing.
“I submit that the entire project was a mere facade right from the outset that was aimed at providing a veil of legitimacy to what was evidently a scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department… the entire project, including the land it was located on, were instrumentalities of the evident theft, fraud and money laundering,” Molelle wrote.
The Gupta Leaks revealed last year how at least R30m paid to the Guptas via the farm ended up funding the family’s lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.
The court documents also revealed that Estina’s appointment for the establishment and management of the Free State dairy project was preceded by several irregularities, including the deliberate and fraudulent disregard of the Department of Agriculture’s prescribed supply chain management (SCM) processes.
The NPA found that several department officials had colluded with Estina in fraudulently circumventing the department’s SCM processes to the benefit and advantage of Estina in one or more of the following ways: No proper research and feasibility study was done to establish the necessity for the project and its viability. The project was neither planned nor budgeted for. No competitive bidding process was followed.
Estina’s appointment was based on material fraudulent misrepresentations regarding the nature and extent of the services they intended to deliver. No assessment of Estina’s ability and capacity to undertake the project was done.
Despite Estina receiving a total payment of R220m, it failed to deliver the goods or render any services. The department failed to ensure the funds were used for their intended purpose, they failed to compel Estina to deliver the goods and services and they failed to recover the funds.
After the department paid the money (in two instalments of R113m and R106m), the money was divided up and: R40,7m was paid to Gateway Pty Ltd; R43,3m was paid to Vargafield Pty Ltd whose sole director was Sanjay Grover (an Indian national with residency in Dubai); R110m went to a bank of Baroda account; R10m was paid to Atul Gupta; R14,5m went to Oakbay Investment Pty Ltd; R21,2 m was handed to Aero Haven; R19m was paid to Stanlib Bedford Gerd; R60m went to VLRS Investments; R6m was paid to West Dawn Investments; and R4,5m was paid to Uxolo Diamond Cutting.
Properties attached included that of Soo “Heather” Young Jeon (a Chinese national who is an employee of the Guptas), Atul Gupta, Ronica Ragavan and Chandrama Prasad.
Prasad is an Indian national who scored R465 000 as a project coordinator of Estina. The Sowetan reported last month that he was planning to leave South Africa.
News24 understands that Jeon and Grover are wanted by the Hawks, along with Duduzane Zuma and Ajay Gupta who are on the run.
Here is a breakdown of the roles the accused had in the Gupta empire:
Kamal Vasram Vasram was Estina (Pty) Ltd’s sole director and shareholder. He was a former sales manager at another Gupta-owned business, Sahara Computers. Vasram, worked in information technology and had no apparent farming background. He also worked at electronics company Toshiba’s South African subsidiary as retail sales manager.
Ashu Chawla Chawla was a Gupta associate who would later become the CEO of Sahara Computers. He served as the point man for Team Gupta at the Sun City wedding, liaising with Sun City both before and after the wedding.
Nazeem Howa Former chief operations manager at Independent News & Media, with 30 years of experience in publishing, Howa moved on to become CEO of TNA Media, which owned The New Age. Howa later became the chief executive officer of Oakbay Investments and non-executive director of Oakbay Resources and Energy before resigning, allegedly due to ill health in 2016.
Varun Gupta Gupta is the nephew of the three Gupta brothers. He is the son of their sister Achla. He was married in an extravagant Bollywood-style wedding in Delhi. Varun was the CEO of Oakbay Resources before his sudden resignation in 2016. Gupta was also the chief executive officer, executive director of Mining and Processing Management, and director at Shiva Uranium Pty Ltd. He holds a BSc Electrical & Electronic Engineering.
Ronica Ragavan Ragavan is currently the acting CEO of Oakbay Investments, the holding company for the Gupta family’s businesses in South Africa. Ragavan was with the business more than 17 years ago. Prior to taking on the CEO role, Ragavan was Oakbay’s financial director.
Peter Thabethe Thabethe was the former Free State agriculture head. He was in the position at the time when now-Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane was the MEC for agriculture.
Dr Takisi Masiteng Masiteng is the district services general manager of the Department of Agriculture.
Seipati Dlamini Dlamini was chief financial officer in the Free State Department of Agriculture when Zwane was MEC. After Zwane became a minister, she was appointed deputy director general of mineral regulation in the Department of Mineral Resources, where she is responsible for granting and rescinding mining licences.