South Africa

AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Arrested ex-Minister Mosebenzi Zwane released on R10,000 bail over Estina Dairy project scandal 

Arrested ex-Minister Mosebenzi Zwane released on R10,000 bail over Estina Dairy project scandal 
Archive Photo: Former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane appears in the dock alongside his co-accused (not pictured) Ronica Ragavan and Ugeshni Govender, at the Bloemfontein Magistrate's Court in Free State, relating to fraud and corruption relating to the Vrede Dairy farm. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

The former mineral resources minister appeared in court alongside former Sahara employee, Ugeshni Govender and longtime Gupta enterprise employee Ronica Ragavan on criminal charges in a case relating to the Estina Dairy project. 

Former minister of mineral resources, Mosebenzi Zwane appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Wednesday morning, following his arrest on charges relating to the R280-million Estina Dairy project in the Free State. 

Zwane was arrested early on Wednesday, 28 September, after handing himself over to the police, before appearing in court alongside former Sahara employee Ugeshni Govender and director of Gupta-owned company Islandsite Investments, Ronica Ragavan. 

Former minister of mineral resources Mosebenzi Zwane appears in the dock alongside his co-accused Ronica Ragavan and Ugeshni Govender, at the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court in Free State. (Photo: Dan Ingham)

Between them, they face charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering, said the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Investigating Directorate (ID), spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka. 

The charges pertain to the Vrede Dairy project scandal, in which the Free State government unlawfully paid the Gupta family’s company Estina, more than R280-million for nothing in return. The public funds which were meant to benefit small-scale black farmers in the province, allegedly lined the Guptas’ pockets. 

The Vrede Dairy project was conceptualised by Zwane — who was then Free State agricultural MEC, along with the province’s former department of agriculture head, Peter Thabethe. Zwane is currently an ANC MP and the chairperson of Parliament’s portfolio committee on transport. 


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Suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule was the Free State Premier at the time. 

In the State Capture commission’s final report, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo recommended that law enforcement should investigate Zwane and Magashule to establish whether they contravened any law in the roles they played in regard to the Vrede Dairy project, and whether civil proceedings can be launched against the pair to recoup the millions spent on the project.

In his report, Zondo lambasted Thabethe for failing to do his job, and slammed Magashule and Zwane for not performing their oversight functions as then-premier and MEC and for “pursuing the agenda of the Guptas” when they aided the looting of millions of rand from the Vrede Dairy Project. 

Read in Daily Maverick: After Zondo findings, what will ANC do about ‘Gupta Minister’ Mosebenzi Zwane?

“The enrollment of this case demonstrates the commitment of the ID to deal with perpetrators of State Capture,” said head of the ID, Adv Andrea Johnson, in a statement on Wednesday. 

“This case should serve to remind the people of the Free State that this matter was not forgotten…The Vrede Dairy project destroyed the lives of the people and communities it was supposed to empower and uplift. The enrollment of the matter is a step closer to delivering justice to the people who were alleged to have been prejudiced by the criminal conduct of the accused.”

In his bail arguments on Wednesday, Zwane’s lawyer said that his client was not a flight risk and would not evade trial. He said that Zwane intends to plead not guilty.  

Zwane and Govender were both released on R10,000 bail each. 

The State did not oppose bail but the court did order that Zwane’s passports be handed to the investigating officer, saying that if he wishes to travel he would only be able to do so upon arrangement with the investigating officer Colonel Mandla Mtolo

Ragavan, who is a director of the Gupta-owned Islandsite Investments One Hundred And Eighty (currently in business rescue), and has been a dedicated Gupta employee for over two decades, was warned to appear as she was previously arrested in this matter in 2018.

“The other accused previously arrested in 2018 will be summoned to appear on the next court date,” said Seboka.

The matter has been postponed to 2 November. DM 

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