The National Prosecuting Authority has finally launched its fight against the Guptas – marked by the confirmation of a request to Interpol to help execute their arrests abroad.
Roughly five years since the #Guptaleaks first emerged, the names of Atul and Rajesh Gupta and their wives, Chetali and Arti, appear on a charge sheet.
The four Guptas are among a group of 17 accused listed in the indictment presented at the Bloemfontein Magistrates’ Court, where their longtime associate Iqbal Sharma and three former government officials appeared briefly on Thursday, 3 June 2021.
The production of a charge sheet is a significant development in South Africa’s efforts to bring the Guptas to book for alleged State Capture crimes, and comes as the Zondo Commission enters its final days of public hearings, which began in August 2018. (see article here: The total(ish) cost of the Guptas’ State Capture: R49,157,323,233.68)
A charge sheet and the arrest warrants may boost efforts to extradite them from the United Arab Emirates, which has been criticised for its tepid response to those efforts.
Sharma – a high-flying businessman and former senior official in the Department of Trade and Industry – was arrested on Wednesday, 2 June 2021, along with former Free State government officials Peter Thabethe, Seipati Sylvia Dhlamini and Limakatso Moorosi.
The group appeared in court on Thursday morning and Dhlamini and Moorosi were scheduled to bring a bail application later in the day.
Thabethe and Sharma were remanded in custody pending their respective bail applications on 7 June 2021.
An official indictment released by the National Prosecuting Authority details charges ranging from contravention of the Public Finance Management Act, to fraud and/or money laundering.
These charges relate to a 2011 contract awarded to Sharma’s company, Nulane Investments 204, to perform due diligence on what would later become the Estina Dairy Project.
The State’s contention is that there was no valid reason the due diligence deal could not have been procured on the open market since the service offered by Nulane was neither unique nor innovative.
Sharma allegedly outsourced the job to Deloitte for a fee of R1.5-million.
Commenting on the sidelines of the court hearing, spokesperson for the Investigative Directorate, Sindiswe Sekoba, said: “ So, you can also do the math about how much they benefited and profited.”
Sharma allegedly irregularly landed the deal on the back of an unsolicited proposal and then entered into a subcontract agreement with the Gupta-linked Gateway Limited in Dubai.
No actual services were rendered by Gateway to Nulane, according to the charge sheet.
“In actual fact, this (sub) contract was just a vehicle used to launder money unlawfully derived by Nulane from the department through the company’s bank account to Gateway, it states.
On 5 October 2011, one of Nulane’s bank accounts had a balance of R89,000 before payments totalling R24.9-million from the department began to flow in.
These payments are deemed to have been the proceeds of unlawful activities under Section 1 of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
The cash, once paid to Nulane, was then allegedly laundered and distributed through a scheme of transactions into and through different bank accounts and companies, including Gateway and the Guptas’ Islandsite Investments One Hundred and Eighty, which is currently in business rescue.
Sharma is perhaps considered a high-value arrest and the holder of many State Capture-era secrets in view of his long-standing Gupta ties.
He was a member of the Transnet board and chairperson of its board tender committee during the controversial transaction for 1,064 locomotives, and had partnered with Gupta kingpin Salim Essa on another controversial deal involving Denel and local steel company, VR Laser.
The extradition request and arrest warrants for the Guptas and their associates come on the back of years of impatience, amplified by revelations of the extent of the Guptas’ influence over senior government officials and how they cashed in on their relationship with the highest office during Jacob Zuma’s term.
They are believed to be living between Dubai and India, while Atul Gupta has audaciously launched a high court application for a new passport booklet.
The Guptas and Essa were slapped with sanctions by the US Treasury in 2019 under that country’s Global Magnitsky Act, which makes the world an incredibly small place for them these days.
Court proceedings continued on Thursday afternoon. DM