The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has provisionally withdrawn charges against eight individuals accused of wrongdoing in the Estina project.
The NPA says it has has been unable to obtain all the necessary information required for prosecution. It insists, however, that it can pick up the case following the completion of its investigation — denying that the case is “dead”.
“We can reinstate the prosecution once our investigation has been finalised, and all outstanding information [is] obtained,” NPA spokesperson Luvuyo Mfaku told Business Day.
The high-profile case saw the arrest of Gupta nephew Varun, Oakbay chief executive Ronica Ragavan, former Sahara executive Ashu Chawla, former TNA media executive Nazeem Howa, Estina director Kamal Vasram and three Free State provincial government officials — Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng — in February this year.
The eight were charged with fraud, theft, conspiracy to commit fraud and theft, contravening the Public Finance Management Act, contravening the Companies Act and contravening sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.
The group was arrested in connection with the alleged theft of R250-million linked to the Estina dairy farm in the agricultural town of Vrede in the Free State.
Estina was envisioned to be a dairy farm which black farmers would have a 51% share in. The Free State government had given the farm a 99-year rent free lease and was expected to inject R500-million in the project.
All eight were granted bail in February and the matter was postponed in August to allow for further investigations. The matter was expected to resume on December 4 at the Bloemfontein magistrate’s court.
In August, prosecutor Justice Bakamela told the court that over 300 bank statements had been obtained, but the NPA was “awaiting information from authorities in Dubai and India, pending the finalisation of mutual legal assistance agreements.”
Without this legal assistance, the NPA has had to provisionally drop the case.
The NPA has notified the Gupta family’s lawyers that the charges have been withdrawn because of outstanding legal assistance from the United Arab Emirates and India.