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GUPTA-LINKED CASE

Shamefaced NPA Investigating Directorate to appeal dismissed R24.9-million Nulane Investments case

Shamefaced NPA Investigating Directorate to appeal dismissed R24.9-million Nulane Investments case
Gupta family associates Peter Thabethe, Limakatso Moorosi, Seipati Dhlamini, Iqbal Sharma, Dinesh Patel and Ronica Ragavan appear in the Bloemfontein high court on 8 September 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Volksblad / Mlungusi Louw)

The Free State high court in Bloemfontein found the State had failed to prove its case against the eight accused.

The National Prosecuting Authority’s (NPA) Investigating Directorate (ID) said on Thursday that it will file an application for leave to appeal after its case against the eight accused in the R24.9-million Nulane Investments trial went bust in the high court in Bloemfontein. 

The NPA’s first State Capture case to proceed to trial came to a standstill in the Free State high court last month, when the judge granted applications of discharge to seven of the accused and acquitted the eighth, after also finding her not guilty of the charges against her.  

This came after seven of the accused applied for a discharge in March, at the close of the State’s case, Daily Maverick’s Cathy Dlodlo reported. The seven applicants believed the State had failed to produce evidence that required a defence from them. 

In handing down her damning ruling on 21 April, Acting Judge Nompumelelo Gusha lambasted the State for its shoddy investigation, saying: “To say that the manner in which the case was conducted is comedy, would be the understatement of the millennium”.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Judge slams State’s ‘stillborn, audacious’ case as all 8 Nulane corruption accused discharged

On Thursday, 4 May NPA ID spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said in a statement that the leadership of the prosecuting authority had noted the “extensive commentary” on the Nulane Investments case judgement. 

“The prosecution team has taken time to carefully interrogate all aspects of the judgment and the Investigating Directorate has decided to appeal the judgement,” said Seboka. 

She said a press conference will be held next week after the application for leave to appeal has been filed. 

“Notwithstanding serious concerns with the judgement, which will be outlined in the papers and dealt with in the legal process, this case demonstrates the urgency to finalise the process to make the ID a permanent entity, with requisite criminal investigative powers and expanded partnerships, as detailed in the President’s response to the Zondo commission reports,” she added. 

The Nulane case is one of 34 cases that have been enrolled by the ID, from 2019 to March 2023, which involve 203 accused persons and 65 entities, said Seboka.

The multimillion-rand Nulane Investments trial kicked off in the high court in Bloemfontein in January this year. 

Those accused in the case were: former head of the Free State Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Peter Thabethe; former department accounting officer, Limakatso Moorosi; and former department chief financial officer, Seipati Dhlamini. 

The others accused were high-flying businessman and former senior official in the Department of Trade and Industry, Iqbal Sharma; Sharma’s brother-in-law and representative of his company Nulane Investments 204, Dinesh Patel; and long-time Gupta enterprise employee and director of Islandsite Investments One Hundred and Eighty, Ronica Ragavan. 

NPA, Iqbal Sharma and Ronica Ragavan

Iqbal Sharma and Ronica Ragavan appear at the Bloemfontein high court on January 23, 2023 in Bloemfontein, South Africa. The suspects faced charges of fraud, money laundering and breaching the Public Finances Act involving R24.9-million. (Photo: Gallo Images/Volksblad/Mlungisi Louw)

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.

“While this judgement is a setback, the ID remains focused and committed to ensuring that justice prevails for State Capture and other serious corruption within its mandate, and that those most responsible are held to account and deprived of their ill-gotten gains,’’ said NPA Investigating Directorate head Adv. Andrea Johnson on Thursday.

“This is a fight for the future of our country which we will not give up on, but it won’t be a quick or easy win.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Everyone but the Guptas feels the heat as SA ups the ante on State Capture prosecutions

Andrea Johnson, NPA

Advocate Andrea Johnson, head of the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daily Maverick)

Failed Gupta extradition 

Meanwhile, the NPA said it remained troubled by the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) decision to refuse extradition of Gupta brothers, Atul and Rajesh. 

“The NPA remains deeply concerned, in light of the fact that it worked through SA’s Central Authority and did everything in line with the UAE treaty requirements, and also complied with all other requests of the UAE authorities,” Seboka said in the statement. 

The UAE rejected South Africa’s bid to extradite the brothers as far back as February this year, but South African authorities were only alerted to this on 6 April. The Guptas’ lawyers knew about the failed extradition long before South Africa, Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee reported. 

The failed extradition has caused a rupture in diplomatic relations, with South African authorities concluding that the UAE government was duplicitous in its handling of the application for the extradition of the Guptas. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Will South Africa use its political leverage on UAE to extradite the Guptas?

The Nulane case triggered law enforcement’s request for Red Notices for the fugitive brothers. The State’s failure to prove its case against the accused, served as another blow in the mission to bring the Guptas to face justice in South Africa. 

The Guptas have traditionally demonstrated a healthy appetite for legal challenges. After the State’s case against those before court went bust, it raised the question of whether the Guptas would use the win in the Bloemfontein high court to kill the Red Notices against them. DM

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