Gupta associate and former Free State officials in the dock over Estina dairy project

Iavan Pijoos Journalist
Peter Thabethe, Dr Limakatso Moorosi, Seipati Dlamini and Iqbal Sharma in court.
Peter Thabethe, Dr Limakatso Moorosi, Seipati Dlamini and Iqbal Sharma in court.
Image: Lihlumelo Toyana/Sunday Times

Gupta family associate and businessman Iqbal Sharma and three former Free State agriculture officials appeared in the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court on Thursday in connection with the failed R288m Estina dairy project.

Sharma appeared alongside Peter Thabethe and Dr Limakatso Moorosi, who are former heads of the department of agriculture, and Seipati Dlamini, who was the department’s financial officer.

Thabethe and Moorosi faced charges of contravention of the Public Finance Management Act and fraud.

Dlamini was charged with fraud while Sharma and Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, where Sharma served as a director, faced charges of fraud and money laundering.

The four were arrested in the Free State, Gauteng and Mpumalanga on Wednesday in connection with the Estina dairy project scandal that unfolded at Vrede in the Free State.

It was later discovered that money paid to Estina had been allegedly laundered through a series of bank accounts.

According to the state indictment, between November 2011 and April 2012, the department of agriculture paid just under R25m in four payments into the Nedbank account of Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd.

The money was then allegedly laundered and distributed through a scheme of transactions into and through different bank accounts of Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, Wone Management (Pty) Ltd, Pragat Investments (Pty) Ltd and Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty (Pty) Ltd held in SA, as well as into the offshore account of Gateway Ltd.

The indictment stated that the money was moved between the accounts in an “unusual and convoluted manner and without a legitimate business purpose”.

“The actual or likely effect of the convoluted movement of the property was to conceal or disguise the nature, source, location, disposition, movement of the said property or the ownership thereof or the department’s interest in respect thereof.

“The movement of the property also had the effect of enabling or assisting accused four [Sharma] to accused 17 [Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty (Pty) Ltd] and Gateway Ltd and its director, to remove or diminish the aforesaid property.”

The state alleged that an amount of R19,070,934, which formed part of the property derived by Sharma from the department, was eventually transferred from Sharma’s Bank of Baroda account into an offshore Standard Charter Bank account of Gateway Ltd, held in the United Arab Emirates under the pretext that it was for payment of services under the contract between him and Gateway Ltd.

Sharma and Thabethe are expecting to apply for bail on Monday after their lawyers had analysed the indictment, the court heard.

Moorosi and Dlamini are expected to apply for bail on Thursday afternoon.

In the indictment, there were 17 accused and companies, which included Rajesh and Atul Gupta and his wife who will be extradited.

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