Gupta dairy farm saga: Estina 8 back in Bloemfontein court

Eight suspects with links to the Gupta family, who stand accused of orchestrating the theft of more than R200m in the Estina dairy farm debacle, are to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court on Friday.

Varun Gupta, the nephew of the infamous 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 are expected to make their first appearance after being released on bail in February. 

Gupta, Ragavan, Howa and Chawla were granted R200 000 bail while Thabethe, Dlamini and Masiteng were given bail of R10 000 each on February 15.

Vasram was granted R100 000 bail four days later. 

They all face 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.

The #GuptaLeaks revealed how Estina had partnered with the Free State Department of Agriculture in 2013 to establish a co-operative dairy farm near Vrede – to benefit more than 100 emerging farmers in the community. 

The project was supposed to be mainly funded by the department. 

But hundreds of millions flowed out of Estina to various accounts owned and operated by the Gupta family – the funds finally ending up in Dubai.

At least R30m of this made its way back to South Africa and was used to pay for a lavish wedding at Sun City for Gupta relatives, also in 2013. 

Thabethe, Masiteng and Dlamini held senior positions in the Department of Agriculture at the time the deal was finalised.

At the time, former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane – who hails from Vrede – was the MEC for agriculture in the province. 

The #GuptaLeaks showed that he and Free State Finance MEC Elsabe Rockman visited the Gupta family at their Saxonwold compound in the weeks leading up to the first payment to Estina.

Missing suspects

In May, the courts relaxed Varun Gupta's bail conditions, making it possible for him to travel to India, apparently to attend religious ceremonies. Gupta was due back in the country by May 27. It was reported at the time that he had returned. 

In February, the Hawks confirmed they were still in search of other suspects, believed to include the Gupta brothers, in connection with the charges relating to Estina.

Arrest warrants had been issued for the remaining suspects in the matter but this week, Hawks head Lieutenant General Godfrey Lebeya told Parliament that they were working with authorities overseas to obtain financial information from institutions in the country. 

Lebeya appeared before the Portfolio Committee on Police for the first time since his appointment in May to brief MPs on high-profile cases. 

He elaborated on the Estina matter, saying that 302 bank account reports were obtained through Section 205 subpoenas and 139 witness statements were taken. 

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The Hawks also conducted search and seizure operations at the Gupta Saxonwold compound, offices in Sandton, the Bank of Baroda offices and other properties in Gauteng and the Free State. 

The Hawks had commissioned the assistance of forensic auditing firms, including SizweNtsabuloGobodo and PWC to finalise reports on the financial information which would be finalised "soon", Lebeya said. 

Law enforcement has lost two crucial court battles over the Estina case to the Gupta family – when the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein overturned preservation orders on the Vrede farm, luxury cars, planes and properties worth roughly R250m belonging to the Gupta family and their associates in connection with charges stemming from the Estina case.

Despite the perceived losses, the NPA has been confident that the preservation order matters will not affect the criminal aspect of the case. 

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