South Africa: Public Protector's Investigation Into Vrede Dairy Farm At an 'Advanced Stage'

Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane says her investigation into the Vrede dairy farm project is at an advanced stage.

"We have conducted public hearings with the beneficiaries and held interviews with several key role players, as well as obtained affidavits from identified former and current department officials, including politicians," she said during a media briefing in Pretoria on Tuesday.

Mkhwebane delivered 12 investigative reports and provided progress on her investigations. She also took the opportunity to address the motion to initiate proceedings for her removal from office as approved by National Assembly Speaker Thandi Modise.

The head of the Chapter 9 institution said that the investigation into the Vrede Dairy Farm includes bank records and the subpoena of specific individuals.

"The investigation team is also considering the audio recordings and affidavits presented by witnesses at the state capture commission of inquiry," she added.

The Public Protector, however, noted that although the investigation is at an advanced stage, her office is struggling to trace representatives of beneficiaries who are key to the investigation.

"We have so far only managed to trace one of them who has relocated from Vrede to the Gauteng province. Therefore further information is being sought from them by means of subpoenas.

"In an attempt to trace the representatives, the assistance of the local media, social media and others have had to be resorted to," she further explained.

Mkhwebane anticipates that this investigation will be completed by March 31.

The latest investigation comes after the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria ruled last year that Mkhwebane failed in her duties to investigate and report on the Vrede dairy farm project in the Free State.

Judge Ronel Tolmay ruled that the initial report, which Mkhwebane quietly released in 2018, was unconstitutional and invalid and set it aside.

The court subsequently found Mkhwebane responsible for some of the legal costs in her personal capacity.

News24 previously reported that the farm, gifted to Estina in 2013 under a free 99-year lease by the Free State agriculture department, has been one of the most scandalous transactions between the Guptas and a government entity.

The #GuptaLeaks further 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.

In an unrelated case, Mkhwebane said that the Chapter 9 institution's investigation into the matter of Independent Power Producers (IPPs) is still at an early stage.

"Thus far several witnesses have been identified and the investigation team is preparing subpoenas for their appearance at the public hearing planned for early March 2020," she said.

Source: News24

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