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Ex-Free State government officials, Guptas in hot water over Vrede dairy project scam

Staff Reporter

Three former senior Free State government officials have been charged with fraud, corruption and money laundering relating to a R25-million feasibility study contract, which included the Vrede dairy project, that was awarded to a company with links to the Gupta family.

The trio – former rural development head Peter Thabethe, former agriculture head Limakatso Moorosi and former agriculture chief financial officer Seipati Dhlamini – were arraigned before the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court today.

They appeared alongside Iqbal Sharma, a former Transnet board member and business partner to Gupta associate Salim Essa.

The four were arrested on Wednesday.

The state alleges the four colluded to divert funds earmarked for rural development in the Free State.

Thabethe, Moorosi and Dhlamini allegedly paid R24 million to Sharma’s company, Nulani Investment 204 (Pty) Ltd, to conduct a feasibility study for the Free State province’s flagship Mohoma Mobung project, which included the much-publicised Vrede dairy initiative.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority’s Investigating Directorate, from there the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.

Instead of undertaking the feasibility study, Nulani Investments – which had no employees on its books – is said to have subcontracted Deloitte Ltd to do the job and produce a report for R1.5 million.

The accused are facing charges of fraud and money laundering.

The former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.

Moorosi and Dhlamini have been released on R10 000 bail each.

The bail application for Thabethe and Sharma will take place on Monday.

The fifth suspect in the matter, Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on June 15 for health reasons.

They are charged together with four companies, Nulane Investments, Wone Management, Pragat Investments and Islandsite Investments.

There are a total of 17 accused persons and companies and they include Rajesh and Atul Gupta who are not currently in South Africa.

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