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Judge slams State’s ‘stillborn, audacious’ case as all 8 Nulane corruption accused discharged

Judge slams State’s ‘stillborn, audacious’ case as all 8 Nulane corruption accused discharged
Iqbal Sharma appears at the Bloemfontein High Court on 23 January 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

As widely anticipated, the Free State High Court in Bloemfontein on Friday punished the State for its failure to prove its case against those accused in the R24.9-million Nulane Investments trial. The accused in the first State Capture Gupta-related case before court are now discharged without having to defend themselves, and this serves as another blow in the mission to bring the Guptas back to South Africa.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) first State Capture case to proceed to trial came to an embarrassing end in the Free State High Court on Friday, with all of eight accused in the R24.9-million Nulane Investments matter being acquitted.  

“The audacious manner in which this matter was investigated is truly to be lamented,” said Acting Judge Nompumelelo Gusha in handing down her damning ruling. 

Judge Gusha granted seven of the accused – former Free State government officials Peter Thabethe and Seipati Dhlamini; high-flying businessman Iqbal Sharma and his brother-in-law Dinesh Patel; long-time Gupta enterprise employee Ronica Ragavan; and companies Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty and Nulane Investments – the application of discharge they launched previously.

The seven  accused applied for a discharge, last month, at the close of the State’s case, in terms of Section 174 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977. The seven applicants believed the State had failed to produce evidence that required a defence from them.  

Former head of the Free State department of agriculture and rural development Limakatso Moorosi was the only one who did not submit an application for discharge. However, in her verdict, Judge Gusha, also found her not guilty, and she was acquitted. 

Not even once was this court ever favoured with even a shred of evidence against Moorosi, according to the judge. 

The multimillion-rand Nulane Investments criminal trial kicked off on 23 January this year.  It is this case that triggered law enforcement’s request for Red Notices for the now failed extradition of the fugitive Gupta brothers, Atul and Rajesh.

Now that the State has failed to prove its case against those before court, it raises the question of whether the Guptas could cash in on this victory by applying to Interpol to remove the Red Notices against them.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Nulane Investments trial: Inside the Gupta-linked R24.9m Free State fraud and money laundering case

The eight accused were on trial for charges ranging from fraud and corruption to money laundering in connection with a R24.9-million feasibility study that led to the controversial Vrede Dairy project – a flagship project for the Free State department of agriculture that cost the provincial department more than R280-million. 

Limakatso Moorosi, Seipati Dlamini, Iqbal Sharma, Ronica Ragavan and Dinesh Patel in the Bloemfontein High Court on 23 January 2023, facing charges of fraud, money laundering and breaching the Public Finances Act involving R24.9 million. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungisi Louw)

The department appointed Nulane Investments to do the feasibility study, although it allegedly did not have the capacity to do so. The State further alleged that the department appointed the company without following a procurement procedure and instead wrote a deviation memorandum that cited Nulane Investments as a sole service provider. 

Nulane then outsourced the service to Deloitte for a fee of R1.5-million – a fraction of what the provincial government paid to the company. Once paid to Nulane, the majority of the cash was allegedly laundered and diverted through a scheme of transactions into and through different bank accounts and Gupta-linked entities.

Judge’s criticism

On Friday, Judge Gusha repeatedly criticised the state’s shoddy investigation.

“To say that the manner in which the case was conducted is comedy, would be the understatement of the millennium,” she said. 

The judge said the State had failed to meet even the barest of threshold to prove that all the accused had unlawfully and intentionally committed fraud (count two).

She said count three – money laundering – was the count that most invoked a sense of loss to the public, but regrettably the State failed to meet even the barest of threshold in proving its case. She said it was evident that R24.9-million left the State coffers, but the questions how and where it went have not been answered by the State. 

The State’s case as presented was stillborn, said the judge. 

“If I misdirected myself on the submission of documents into the court record, what weight would it render to the case – zilch,” she said.

The NPA failed to prosecute the case and scored an own goal in the process when the Judge found that a State witness, Shadrack Cezula, should be charged. 

She said that his testimony was evasive and dishonest and fell apart during cross-examination. 

Following Friday’s judgement, the NPA has indicated that it is weighing up options on whether to appeal the court’s ruling in the Nulane matter. 

“We will be reflecting on the judgment with a view to determine legal avenues to explore. The outcome of this case has no bearing on our ability to prosecute other State Capture cases. We remain resolute in our commitment and ability to vigorously prosecute those responsible for State Capture and corruption,” said the NPA’s Investigating Directorate head advocate, Andrea Johnson. DM


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  • Hermann Funk says:

    Batohi should be fired. But as usual, the president will continue sitting on his hands and do NOTHING.

    • Scott Gordon says:

      my thoughts exactly .
      Will she plead lack of funding for so many cases ?
      Simple , concentrate on the big issues put all others on the back burner .
      I do not need a degree for that .
      She cannot even put a decent case together , what happened to the evidence ?
      What brought the prosecution ?
      Guess the tax payer is paying all the ‘costs ‘ , again .

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Agree. Call me a conspiracy theorist but my take is that the government thinks they have far more to lose than to gain by exposing Gupta related crime details; so they go through the motions, making what they think are the right noises, but all the while in background doing what is needed to fail spectacularly at prosecution – as is evidenced here and with all things Gupta.

      • Kelly Holland says:

        I don’t think they are clever enough to come up with something like that. Sadly, I think it is down to utter incompetence.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          You may be right. Sadly the outcome is identical. ie. South Africa loses, and hard.

          But I suppose it’s just Another Nasty Cock-up.

    • Nic Bosveld says:

      She is useless. Period.

  • Marius Laker says:

    Without journalists to do the investigation for the NPA, every State Capture case will be lost.

    • Rory Short says:

      Too true.

    • Johan Buys says:

      Marius: I believe next stage beyond the journalists is what we need:

      If we can find them (and fund them), a small army of retired judges and prosecutors that QA the dockets / charges before a major case goes to trial. The funders Select the team…

      This is a farce and an insult.

  • William Stucke says:

    Good grief! What outstanding incompetence. This was supposed to be the first of many State Capture trials, and it has fallen apart due to a lack of real evidence.

    Are the NPA totally incompetent, or were they bribed?

    • Rory Short says:

      I wonder.

      • Barry Taylor says:

        It is plain incompetence and nothing else
        No bribes but pure stupidity of the investigators and prosecutors
        What i can read between the lines of the judges comments no money trial was followed and the basis of any such crime is the money trial with the necessary documentation
        Realist Thailand

  • Hansie Louw says:

    R23m disappeared and the state was not able to produce a shred of evidence!
    How bizarre is this?

    As a normal citizen I will ask the questions: what happened to the evidence? If there was no evidence to start with, why the court case?

    Is State Capture now in the NPA as well? Maybe a file or ten went missing. This is a very sad state of affairs. This is not the justice that we are looking for.

    If it was a good transaction, i.e. you win a contract and you receive R24,9 m and you subcontract another firm to do it at R1,5m then the money should still be around somewhere., It should be easy to account for it.

    This is not acceptable.

  • Bee Man says:

    Absolutely unacceptable. This apparent incompetence needs utmost condemnation from Lamola and our President. And hopefully strong dissatisfaction from Zondo aswell.

  • Rory Short says:

    It really seems that the NPA has been captured.

  • Allauddin Thobani Thobani says:

    Iqbal Sharma is on the flight to Dubai

  • Allauddin Thobani Thobani says:

    on 18th May 2019, the head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Investigative Directorate,Adv Hermione Cronje to news24.“I’m still gobsmacked by extent of state capture devastation” –
    “There is a long list of people who stood idly by, turned blind eye or enabled the deterioration and destruction of state institutions,”
    “The challenge we face is our list of potential accused is very long, it’s actually impossibly long,” she said, addressing the University of Cape Town’s Summer School guest lecture.
    “In some institutions, it’s hard to pick out people who can credibly give evidence in a criminal trial about what happened because they were either complicit or will struggle to answer questions about what they did to stop what was happening.”
    Adv Cronje resigned, she understood that whole NPA, each and every prosecutor DPP, DDPP are involved directly or indirectly in State Capture, proved today.

    • Manfred Hasewinkel says:

      What happens when the NPA employs lawyers that are eclipsed by investigative journalists? What happens if the NPA leadership has no altruism and is maybe out of its depth? Thobani uses the title ‘Adv’ as if it has some level of gravitas. The truth is that it does not in present day South Africa.

  • William Kelly says:

    And yet SARS is able to track and trace every cent of honest citizens. Whose money it is that was stolen. Great to see where it all goes. Just great.

    • Zamfoot 1 1 says:

      Well thats easy, without SARS there is no money to run the country…. with out the NPA the current crowd in the ANC still get to run the country.

  • Jon Quirk says:

    It was very clear, from the outset, that Batohi was seriously out of her comfort zone and skills set; equally that, after the early withdrawing of Ms Cronje, she and her team were seriously under-resourced.

    We should not be surprised at this, because, were she to have succeeded in her herculean task, it would have been squirmingly embarrassing for the entire senior edifice of the ANC.

    The result, a half-baked, half-cocked case leaves our country with very little likelihood of recovering and serious value for the gross cost and loss of ANC fraud, corruption and ineptitude.

    Sadly, this was ever their fallback position – unaccountability and acceptance of their gross misconduct and ineptitude. BEE and cadre deployment will sadly now be again swept under the carpet and ordinary South Africans ever more deeply impoverished by ruling party corruption.

    We again will follow Zimbabwe ever deeper into the depths of depraved and corrupt governance – unless and until the mass of South Africans finally and fully remove the blinkers and kick the ANC into the jailhouse they all ought to now be permanently inhabiting.

  • Henry van der Westhuizen says:

    My understanding was that the State was going to prosecute the cases which they felt most confident of winning, first. If it is true of this case, I shudder to think how the rest will go down. I’m utterly disappointed in Shamilla Batohi.

  • Johan Buys says:

    Maybe my grandmother was right and that eventually every dog gets its day. Whether by bullet or car accident or cancer.

    Please can our much admired investigative journalists forward the details of what they have to the tax authorities of the various jurisdictions and to the banking regulators of whatever banks facilitated these scams? Who knows – maybe…. Plus : add the lawyers and advocates of these accused to the Hall of Shame???

  • Luan Nel says:

    It would not be in the NPA’s interest to properly investigate any part of state capture because it will mean current instances of similar theft and defrauding would also have to be investigated and the NPA acts as insurance or guard against such action. The theft is far from over and behind us.

    • Ernest Esterhuizen says:

      What has Shamilla Batohi done for the country since taking the job. Did she not go through the facts and met with her team to ensure that their case was watertight before going to court. Can one be impeached for doing nothing? Our laws count for nothing and the criminals and zuma are a law unto themselves. They have EVIDENCE that 24 million went missing, but NO evidence how it happened or where it went to. So what evidence was used to keep Iqbal Sharma here since 2019? 4 years? What utter nonsense. Why were Deloitte on board? Should the judge also be investigated?

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    Let us see what happens to the other State Capture cases before we judge too fast. But Shamila Batohi should check up what is going on, and if her personnel maybe are still on Zuma’s payroll or something . . . After all there was a number of years in which all the wrong persons were put in place there. I would say that she must use this as a yardstick of how her personnel should NOT perform, and build better performances from here on.

  • Roelf Pretorius says:

    . . . But we as South Africans should stop doing what we so love, namely to always look for someone to blame. We need solutions, and the only way to get to that is to generate it ourselves. It always applies in this case.

  • Etienne Theron says:

    The State didn’t ask for or get a special entry. They can’t appeal.

  • Meirion Griffiths says:

    The prosecutors need to be investigated. This level of incompetence smacks of bribery.

  • dylan smith says:

    I think the root cause was Sinusitis or cyanidecitus or just the calculated destruction of the functioning of law and order by the ANC. That said it would be difficult to be this incompetent.

  • Jane Crankshaw says:

    Deliberate incompetence from the State!
    Just another perversion of our captured Judiciary in my opinion.
    They’re all in cahoots…and related in one way or another.
    Political connected corruption has ruined any chance of South Africa being a respected honest player on the world stage.

  • Paul Hoffman says:

    The blame lies squarely on the failure of government properly to understand and implement the binding rulings of the Concourt in the Glenister litigation. Countering serious corruption requires a totally dedicated and highly specialised entity with enough well trained experts housed in an operationally and structurally independent way. The new entity must be fully resourced and must enjoy secure tenure of office.
    The post Scorpions experiment of separating investigative and prosecutorial functions has failed and must end now.
    Making the clueless ID “permanent”, as cabinet wishes, is bound to fail too.
    A new stand alone body that is neither Hawk nor ID is required urgently. The draft remedial legislation exists, the political will to implement it is lacking in the ANC but not in the IFP and DA.
    All voters need to insist that the party or person for whom they vote is committed to the establishment of a new Chapter Nine body that has a mandate to prevent, combat, investigate, and prosecute serious corruption.
    All politicians need to support this radical enforcement transformation on pain of facing their political demise.
    The remedial steps and draft laws suggested by Accountability Now are available for critical review on its website.
    If the catastrophic trial in the Nulane matter and the fiasco in the Gupta extradition application do not prompt a radical rethink in cabinet, its accountability and responsiveness will be called into question by the electorate.

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Also … think of how a ‘good’ party was ‘captured’ to be part of the ‘cabinet’ … and how a no-hope party produced a mayor of the biggest metro in SA ! Learning how to play the game is the name of the game … and giving us a better life for all !

    • Kanu Sukha says:

      Just look at the colours of the beads (though the greyish ones are supposed to be green!) on the wrist of the photo of Iqbal at the top of the article, and you know what we are up against !

  • Josie Rowe-Setz says:

    Out of a cast of literally thousands of nasty shocks for SA over the last years this is easily the worst. I think we have had some hope that the NPA underpinned by Zondo was moving in the right direction. With Gupta escape, Zuma yet again delayed and now this, its hard to keep hoping for improvement.

  • Jonathan Schrire says:

    The first step is to subpoena the bank statements of all the accused. It is unlikely the entire R24 mn was paid in cash and bypassed the banking system entirely. Then you see somebody earning R30k p month has R1 mn coning in. Then you ask where did that cone from?” “My uncle gave it to me”. Then the Court has evidence it can weigh up….

  • Zane Erasmus Erasmus says:

    Is this the last straw !!!!

  • Neil Parker says:

    “The audacious manner in which this matter was investigated is truly to be lamented,” said Acting Judge Nompumelelo Gusha in handing down her damning ruling.

    Audacious ??

    “If I misdirected myself on the submission of documents into the court record, what weight would it render to the case – zilch,” she said.

    Can someone with legal expertise please explain the above quote from Judge Gusha ?

  • Henning Swanepoel says:

    Simply put – absolutely embarrassing!!

  • Shirley Gobey says:

    Can a private prosecution not take place by OUTA or someone like that?

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