Investigators probing the Estina dairy farm scandal may search for the controversial project's missing cattle until the cows come home.
According to the Public Protector's brand new report on the failed project, up to 440 cows and bulls procured for the Free State's Gupta-linked agriculture initiative may be unaccounted.
Invoices and other documents provided to the Public Protector's investigators show that a total of 980 heads of cattle had been purchased for the project since its inception in 2012. These were mostly cows, but the total also includes two bulls.
A handover report by the Free State Development Corporation (FDC) compiled in August 2014, showed that there were 791 cows and bulls left at that stage, according to the Public Protector report.
The FDC took over the ill-fated project from the Free State department of agriculture in 2014.
In other words, 189 head of cattle were unaccounted for at that point.
When the team of Public Protector investigators visited the farm in April 2017, the farm manager said that there were 540 cows at the site. This would mean that by then, 440 cows out of the 980 heads of cattle purchased had gone missing.
The Public Protector's latest report does mention that some of the cows had died in the interim, but it would appear that the number of dead cattle do not square up with the total number of cows and bulls that are unaccounted.
"[The] various reports indicated that up to between 50 and 100 cattle had died since being purchased," reads the report.
An investigation by the Hawks into the Estina matter is ongoing.
Two weeks ago, the crime-fighting unit conducted search and seizure operations relating to the Estina project at the offices of Free State Premier Ace Magashule and the Free State's Department of Agriculture.