15 February 2018

Africa: Seven Vrede Dairy Farm Project Accused Released On Bail

As police hunt down Ajay Gupta, seven of the eight people arrested by the Hawks during raids at Gupta compounds this week were granted bail in the Bloemfontein Regional Court on Thursday.

The Hawks have confirmed to News24 that Gupta is a fugitive from justice.

"We spoke to his lawyers because he was supposed to hand himself over, but that didn't [get] him. We regard him as a fugitive, because there is a warrant of arrest," Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said.

Mulaudzi said Gupta was facing a charge of corruption.

On Thursday afternoon - state officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng were each granted R10 000 bail.

Meanwhile, Gupta-linked suspects Varun Gupta, Ronica Ragavan, Nazeem Howa and Ashu Chawla were each granted R200 000 bail.

The case against Estina director Kamal Vasram was postponed to Monday.

The State is not opposing bail, but said it was not happy that Vasram's address was not confirmed.

According to the charge sheet, the accused face 12 counts, including theft, fraud, conspiracy to commit theft and fraud.

The public gallery was packed to capacity with EFF and DA supporters, and journalists. Some journalists were not allowed inside because there wasn't enough space.

The suspects were arrested in connection with investigations into the Free State Vrede dairy farm project, Mulaudzi said.

Earlier on Thursday, police ministry spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said they were working with the National Prosecuting Authority on state capture investigations.

He said 13 warrants of arrest were issued in Bloemfontein and Johannesburg.

He added that police were still looking for two suspects while three others, including two from India, and one of Chinese origin, were believed to be outside of South Africa.

City Press previously reported that Thabethe - Free State agriculture head - was arrested in connection with his involvement in the failed dairy farm project.

Thabethe was the head of department at the time that Mosebenzi Zwane, who is now Minister of Mineral Resources, was agriculture MEC.

A senior security cluster official told City Press that Thabethe was arrested on Wednesday morning, after a raid at his home in Bloemfontein earlier in the morning.

In January, the Hawks also conducted search and seizure operations at Free State Premier Ace Magashule's offices and the provincial office of the Department of Agriculture, News24 reported.

An affidavit has also revealed that Free State's agricultural department - then under Zwane - allegedly paid R220m to the Guptas and some of their associates in what the Asset Forfeiture Unit calls a "scheme designed to defraud and steal monies from the department".

One hundred black emerging farmers were promised five cows each as part of the empowerment scheme, but they never received them.

Gifted to the Gupta-linked Estina in 2013, under a free 99-year lease by the provincial agriculture department, the farm has been one of the most scandalous transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.

The Gupta Leaks revealed in 2017 how at least R30m paid to the Guptas, via the farm, ended up funding the family's lavish Sun City wedding in 2013.

Source: News24

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