Friday, 04 June 2021
Bloemfontein: The National Prosecuting Authority has seeked INTERPOL’s assistance in arresting the Guptas. The request was in the wake of former Transnet Board member, and business partner to Gupta associate Salim Essa, Iqbal Sharma, and three former senior Free State government officials appearing in the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court on Thursday.
The four appeared before the court facing charges of procurement fraud involving R24 million, paid by the Free State Department of Agriculture (FSDoA) to Nulane Investment 204 (PTY) LTD, a company owned and controlled by Sharma.
In a statement, the NPA said the funds were from there diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd (Islandsite), a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.
“In the charge sheet handed in at court today, the State alleges that Iqbal Sharma and former Free State head of Department for Rural Development (FSDoRD), Peter Thabethe; former head of FSDoA, Limakatso Moorosi; and former FSDoA Chief Financial Officer, Seipati Dhlamini; colluded to divert funds earmarked for rural development in the Free State. These funds were then placed at the disposal of the Gupta family,” said Sindisiwe Seboka, spokesperson for the NPA’s Investigating Directorate (ID).
Seboka said the R24 million was purportedly paid to Nulane to conduct a feasibility study for the Free State’s flagship Mohoma Mobung project, on the basis that Nulane had unique skills to perform the work.
“Nulane Investments however had no employees on its books and in fact subcontracted Deloitte Ltd to produce the report, for which Deloitte was paid R1.5 million. The only change made to the Deloitte report was to identify Paras Dairy as a suitable implementing partner for the development of a milk processing plant in Vrede,” said the ID.
The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering. The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
The ID on Thursday opposed bail for two of the accused while application for the other two would be heard on Monday.
The fifth suspect in the matter, Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on 15 June 2021 for health reasons.
They are charged together with three companies, Nulane Investment 204 (Pty) Ltd (owned and controlled by Sharma), Wone Management (PTY) LTD, Pragat Investment (Pty) LTD, Islandsite Investments Pty Ltd. The balance of Accused listed in the charge sheet are not currently in South Africa.
ID head, Adv Hermione Cronje, said the NPA is applying to Interpol to assist with the execution of arrest warrants in respect of Atul Gupta and his wife, Chetali; Rajesh Gupta and his wife, Arti; Ankit Jain, former Nulane Investment Bank of Baroda account signatory; Ravindra Nath, director of Wone Management (Pty) Ltd; Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh, the directors of Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd.
“The modus operandi used in this case appears to have been replicated in other government departments and projects. It is therefore critical that the evidence gathered in this matter is presented to court and a verdict obtained expeditiously,” she said.
She said it was for this reason that prosecutors have decided to proceed separately against the accused currently in the country and those abroad, as the process of arrest and extradition may unduly delay the trial.”
To facilitate a speedy trial in this matter, the accused will be handed a final indictment together with the contents of the case docket on 15 June when the matter will be postponed to the High Court for the accused to plead to the charges.