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Vrede Dairy project — Mosebenzi Zwane appears in high court for corruption pretrial

Vrede Dairy project —  Mosebenzi Zwane appears in high court for corruption pretrial
Former MEC for Agriculture in the Free State, Mosebenzi Zwane, appeared in the Bloemfontein high court. The case was postponed to April for further case management. (Photo: Supplied)

The pre-trial conference for the R280-million Estina corruption case, in which former Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane is one of the 15 accused, has been postponed to 21 April 2023. 

Former Minister of Mineral Resources, Mosebenzi Zwane and his co-accused made a brief first appearance in the Free State high court in Bloemfontein on Wednesday morning, in connection with the R280-million Estina Dairy project fraud and corruption case. 

Charges against one of the former accused companies — at the centre of the Vrede Dairy project — Estina have been withdrawn in the Magistrates’ court since it is under liquidation. 

The case has been postponed to 21 April 2023 for a pre-trial conference.

The matter was transferred to the Free State high court in Bloemfontein in November last year. 

The 15 accused in the case include Zwane, former Sahara employee Ugeshni Govender and director of Gupta-owned company Islandsite Investments One Hundred and Eighty, Ronica Ragavan. 

After his appearance, Zwane confirmed to Daily Maverick that he had stepped aside from ANC duties, and was no longer active as chairperson of the Transport portfolio committee, though he remained an MP.

Zwane was arrested on 28 September last year, after handing himself over to the police, before appearing in Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court along with Govender and Ragavan. 

The State did not oppose bail, and Zwane and Govender were both released on R10,000 bail each. Ragavan, who was arrested in this matter in 2018, was warned to appear in court when the matter resumed on 2 November last year. 

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The other accused are the former head of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Peter Thabethe; former chief financial officer of the Department, Seipati Dhlamini; former acting head of the Department, Takisi Masiteng; and the former sole director of Estina dairy farm, Kamal Vasram. 

The State added Thabethe, Dhlamini, Masiteng and Vasram to the case in November last year — as well as seven companies. 

Between them, they face charges of fraud, theft, corruption, money laundering and contravention of the Public Finance Management Act (PFMA). 

The charges emanate from 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 disadvantaged black farmers in the province, were allegedly looted for the ultimate benefit of the Guptas.  

The Vrede Dairy project was conceptualised by Zwane, who was Free State agricultural MEC at the time, and Thabethe. 

In the State Capture commission’s final report, Chief Justice Raymond Zondo singled out Zwane, Thabethe and suspended ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, who was the Free State Premier at the time, as the primary architects behind the looting of the provincial department of agriculture through Estina. 

Speaking to Daily Maverick after appearing in court on Wednesday, Zwane said he was just hoping to get his day in court and reminded journalists that he is just an accused in the case. DM


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