State capture commission turns to Estina dairy farm project

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Dairy cows on the farm during a site visit by the leader of the DA, Mmusi Maimane to the Vrede Dairy farm that was run by Gupta company Estina, 12 July 2017. It was intended to benefit the communiy but has been alleged to be a front for money laundering and also alleged to have been the source of funds for the Gupta wedding. Picture: Neil McCartney

The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture will on Monday hear testimony on alleged fraud and corruption in the Free State Estina dairy project, where over R200 million meant for emerging black farmers was allegedly looted by officials and the fugitive Gupta family.

The commission is scheduled to hear evidence from Democratic Alliance (DA) member of the Free State legislature Roy Jankielsohn and Albertus Venter, a deputy director in the premier’s office.

Ex-cabinet minister Mosebenzi Zwane was Free State MEC for agriculture in 2013 when the Gupta-linked company, Estina, was announced by then-premier Ace Magashule as the entity in partnership with the provincial government in a dairy farm project in Vrede.

It was claimed that more than R200 million was poured into the project, while only R2 million was spent on the actual dairy farm project.

Most of the money allegedly went to Gupta bank accounts, with some of it used to pay for a lavish Gupta family wedding at Sun City resort in 2013. The leaked internal Gupta emails, called the GuptaLeaks, showed that at least R30 million of the money funded the wedding.

Magashule was elected secretary general of the governing African National Congress in 2017.

Authorities arrested eight people for alleged corruption in connection with the project. They were former TNA media executive Nazeem Howa, who was also CEO of Gupta-owned holding company Oakbay Resources, the nephew of the Gupta brothers Varun Gupta, former Sahara Computers CEO Ashu Chawla, Estina director Kamal Vasram, Oakbay acting CEO Ronica Ragavan who took over from Howa, and three Free State provincial government officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini, and Takisi Masiteng.

Their case was provisionally withdrawn in the Bloemfontein Regional Court in December last year to give investigators time to gather more evidence in India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

A subsequent investigation by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane into the project did not find any wrongdoing by Magashule or Zwane, and instead laid the blame on senior provincial officials. The highly criticised report was declared invalid and was set aside by the Pretoria High Court in May.

Mkhwebane came under fire in the scathing judgment by Judge Ronel Tolmay, who described her report as “unconstitutional and invalid”. The DA and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (Casac) brought the application to court, seeking to have the probe declared unconstitutional, invalid, and set aside.

The controversial Gupta family is being investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies who are hunting for more than R50 billion allegedly looted from South Africa’s state-owned companies through an elaborate state capture project.

The Guptas had a close relationship with former president Jacob Zuma and were business partners with his son Duduzane. The Gupta family hastily left South Africa in 2016, headed to the UAE.

– African News Agency (ANA)