Estina trial adjourned, magistrate set to decide on lengthy postponement

The eight accused in the Estina dairy farm matter will have to wait until Tuesday to find out whether the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court will deny or grant the State’s request to postpone the matter by another three to five months.

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 Friday.

They were granted bail in February.

They were arrested on charged with 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 R250m linked to the Estina dairy farm project in Vrede.

READ: EXCLUSIVE: Gupta associate 'advised' Magashule on Vrede dairy project - court papers

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 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.

Opposed

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 arguments against the postponement.

Legal representatives for the other accused echoed and supported his arguments. Hellens argued that it was outrageous for the State to seek further leeway to finalise its investigation, in light of the accused having already been arrested.

A final charge sheet is yet to be formulated, and dragging out the matter was severely prejudicial to his clients and the other accused, Hellens submitted.

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.

Magistrate Nekosi said he needed time to consider the documents and arguments.

He warned the accused that their bail conditions were still applicable and ordered them to appear before the court on August 21.

READ: NPA has failed miserably in Vrede Dairy investigation – legal expert