CentralSA#Guptas dealt a blow in Vrede adjacent AFU case
─── OLEBOGENG MOTSE 07:40 Thu, 12 Aug 2021
The Bloemfontein High Court has ruled against the Gupta family with respect to asset forfeiture proceedings pertaining to the Vrede feasibility case, thus denying them their request to represent Islandsite Investments in the matter.
Bloemfontein High Court Judge President Cagney Musi has ruled that the Business Rescue Practitioners (BRPs) assigned to manage Islandsite Investments have the legal standing to represent the company in legal proceedings, and not the directors of the company who are, in fact, opposed to the provisional restraint order against the company.
Last week, during proceedings meant to confirm said June 2021 order - which seized assets belonging to Iqbal Sharma, his wife Tarina Patel and the Gupta family - it was revealed that the Guptas - via their legal counsel Mike Hellens - are not in favour of their company being represented by BRPs: Knoop and Kloppers.
The NPA investigating directorate's Sindisiwe Seboka weighed in on the matter.
Seboka says the judgment means the NPA can now shift their efforts and focus to September and November 2021 respectively, when the criminal case and asset forfeiture proceedings pertaining to the R24,9 million Vrede Dairy feasibility study - coined the “gateway” to the looting that took place in the project - resume.
Islandsite Investments, which according to reports owns 40% of Oakbay Investments, the controversial Gupta mansion in Saxonwold and the family's Cape Town home, has been linked to the near R25 million Vrede Dairy feasibility study that has been deemed the catalyst of the alleged looting and money laundering that took place regarding the project.
A major part of Hellens’ argument was that the BRPs are not the appropriate parties to represent the company because they do not have knowledge of the businesses’ affairs during the time in question.
Hellens further maintained that divorcing this civil matter from the criminal proceedings is nonsensical because “will the BRPs represent Islandsite during the trial?”.
State Advocate at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Suna de Villiers, on the other end said there is provision legally for the BFP’s to delegate matters pertaining to this case to the Islandsite directors - who have submitted affidavits in the matter - but they haven’t done so. Hellens quips that that is because the BRPs have “abandoned” the company.
Background on the state’s case
In 2011, the Free State Agriculture Department paid almost R25 million to Nulane Investments, which was owned by former Transnet board member, Iqbal Sharma, for the Vrede feasibility study. Nulane – represented by Sharma’s brother-in-law Dinesh Patel – then negotiated and subcontracted the same feasibility study to forensic auditing firm, Deloitte, for R1,5 million. They went further and subcontracted the work - already carried out by Deloitte - to Gateway Limited and paid them R19 million. The state alleges the funds were thereafter laundered into varied accounts including that of Islandsite Investments. It is for the money laundering that occurred that the Gupta family has now been linked to the case.
Those arrested already for the case include government officials: Former Free State Agriculture Department Head, Peter Thabethe, Current Deputy Director-General at the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta), Sylvia Dlamini, and Bloem Water Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Limakatso Moorosi, as well as Patel and Sharma. Patel and the aforementioned government officials have since been released on R10 000 bail. Sharma was denied bail by the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court, but was later released by the aforementioned High Court on R500 000 bail.
The state has, in light of the money laundering allegations, approached Interpol to have them issue red notices for Atul and Rajesh Gupta, as well as their wives Chetali and Arti. Whilst red notices for the Gupta family are under consideration, the notices have been issued for their associates: former Nulane Investment Bank of Baroda account signatory, Ankit Jain; Director of Wone Management, Ravindra Nath; the Directors of Pragat Investments, Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh.
Meanwhile, the Guptas are battling it out with the business rescue practitioners in the Constitutional Court, the judgment of which is yet to be handed down.