The National Prosecuting Authority is injecting new life into its Estina Dairy Project investigation with yesterday’s arrest of former mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, Sahara employee Ugeshni Govender and a former director of Islandsite, Ronica Ragavan, as it attempts to extradite Atul and Rajesh Gupta on the same matter, while targeting other associates linked to the fugitive family, notes Legalbrief.
The arrest of Zwane on fraud and corruption charges related to the R280-million project is ‘a step closer to delivering justice’, the NPA’s Investigating Directorate (ID) said. The Mail & Guardian reports that Zwane, Govender and Ragavan, appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court yesterday on charges of fraud, theft, corruption and money laundering.
Sahara and Islandsite are companies owned by the Guptas, which allegedly benefited from the graft, including supposedly paying for the wedding of the Gupta brothers’ niece in 2013. The Free State Agricultural Department, which Zwane was the political head of during the dairy farm project between July 2012 to April 2014, was supposed to contribute R342-million to the programme while Estina, a private entity, received about R280-million of that money in the two-year period. The directorate said the Vrede project was designed to extract funds from the state.
The Zondo Inquiry into State Capture fingered Zwane in the dairy farm scandal. In its final report, the Zondo Commission found that Zwane and suspended ANC secretary-general and former Free State Premier Ace Magashule were ‘pursuing the agenda of the Guptas’ by failing to do their jobs with respect to the provincial government project. Yesterday, ID head Advocate Andrea Johnson said the arrest of the suspects related to the alleged farm corruption showed that the directorate had not forgotten the people of the Free State.
“It does, however, take long to investigate and put together appropriate charges for prosecuting such complex cases. The Vrede dairy project destroyed the lives of the people and communities it was supposed to empower and uplift,” Johnson said.
News24 reports that Zwane was granted bail of R20 000. Zwane, who is currently an MP, handed himself over to police early yesterday morning. In his affidavit, he said he intended pleading not guilty to the charges and would not evade trial nor interfere with witnesses.
Govender was granted bail of R10 000, while Ragavan is out on a warning. The case has been postponed to 2 November.