By Lindile Sifile | The Star |
Johannesburg – Luxury cars, two aircraft, a helicopter, farms and bank accounts are some of the controversial Guptas’ valuables, worth more than R250 million, that the Asset Forfeiture Unit is looking to impound.
The AFU on Monday descended on the embattled Guptas’ luxury Saxonwold compound in Joburg, armed with a restraint order to seize the family’s multimillion-rand assets.
The seizure relates to the case of fraud, theft and money laundering that allegedly occurred at the Vrede Dairy Project in the Free State, which the three Gupta brothers are believed to have looted, using their connections within the government.
The AFU, police and officials from Sars raided the Guptas’ compound to identify and record some of the items to be seized. These assets belong to some of their entities such as Oakbay Investments and Sahara Computers, valued at about R250 202 650. The Guptas could forfeit these pending the finalisation of the case.
“Upon conviction, the AFU will apply for a confiscation order for the recovery of that amount and/or any related amounts,” said National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku.
Moves to attach the Guptas’ properties got into full swing on Friday when the family’s private jet, valued at $60.5million (R730m), which is at the centre of a legal dispute, was returned to Lanseria Airport, north of Joburg, from Dubai.
The Star has learnt that some of the millions siphoned from the crippling Estina Dairy Farm project could have been used by other foreigners linked to the Guptas to set up private businesses and buy properties in and around Vrede.
Chandrama Prasad, an Indian national hired by the Guptas to manage the project in 2013, is said to have colluded with Shahid Muhammad to set up at least three businesses and several properties in the Free State town.
All these entities are registered under Muhammad’s South African wife Nelisiwe Sani-Muhammad. Muhammad is a Pakistani national and businessman in Vrede.
Sani-Muhammad is listed as the director of the three companies, but she owns no shares and has contributed no capital to start any of them, according to a company search.
The businesses include a bakery and vegetable shop, but she also has 20 properties in her name.
An associate who worked on the plant, a businessman employed on the farm as a part-time electrician, business adviser, and middleman to Prasad and Muhammad, exclusively told The Star that money, equipment and products from the project were passed down to private businesses mainly run by Muhammad.
“This guy (Muhammad) would sometimes bring his bakkie and truck to the farm to fill them with the diesel meant for the project. He also pocketed more than R400000 in fake invoices which he submitted to the project.
“I know this because I was there, helping them buy some of the things they wanted, and I would sometimes give them business advice,” said the plant worker, who feared being named.
He added that Prasad also sold milk meant for companies contracted to the locals.
The Hawks interviewed the plant worker a few weeks ago, following the arrest of eight individuals in February for the alleged theft from the R220m government-sponsored project.
The suspects included Estina director Kamal Vasram, who was granted bail of R100 000 by the Bloemfontein Regional Court along with his accomplices.
They have been charged with 12 counts of fraud and theft and are expected to appear in court again in August.
Hawks spokesperson Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi said the worker’s claims would be tested in court.
“The second phase of the investigation is continuing, but I can’t divulge much. We will be looking at some of these claims he has made, if they don’t already form part of our investigation,” Mulaudzi said.
Muhammad dismissed all the allegations against him, claiming that he started his businesses in 2005 – long before the dairy farm project came into existence.
“I know Prasad very well, but I have never worked with him. I know nothing about the plant and I never benefited from it. I’ve had the police and the media asking me about this farm. I know nothing about it.”
Asked why all his businesses were in his wife’s name, Muhammad said it was an agreement between them as they had been in business together for many years.
The Free State Agriculture Department had entered into a partnership with Estina, a private company, in 2012 with the purpose of helping about 80 emerging dairy farmers in and around Vrede. They would have had a 51% stake in the project, while Estina would have retained 49%.
The department poured more than R200m into the venture without following proper procedures, according to the damning report issued by the public protector’s office in February. It was also alleged that R10m of the money was deposited into Atul Gupta’s personal bank account.
A further R30m funded the extravagant Gupta wedding in Sun City in 2013.
The Gupta-linked former minerals minister Mosebenzi Zwane, who was then the province’s agriculture MEC, is reported to have conceived the project with the help of former premier Ace Magashule.
But both Zwane and Magashule have denied the allegations linking them to the scandal.
In her report, Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane concluded that the project was designed to loot state funds with 80 ghost beneficiaries.
“The fact that 80 beneficiaries have been sidelined while they in fact should own 51% of the project implies that they were used as pawns to justify the project after the DA requested the names from them.
“A meeting with some of them indicates that they are merely names on a piece of paper, with no further information or involvement,” the report stated.
The African Farmers Association of SA (Afasa) in the province said the project was not meant to benefit emerging farmers from the outset.
Shadrack Mbele, provincial Afasa chair, said they had received concerns from their members in Vrede about the project and they had to ask the intervention of the current agriculture MEC, Oupa Khoabane.
“Our members were not happy after they realised that all the beneficiaries were not farmers. It was intended for other people, who we don’t know. We made an application to the MEC to change the ownership to the farmers,” Mbele said.