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Why Gupta ‘associate’ has been denied bail

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Staff Reporter

The man at the centre of the alleged looting of R25-million from the Free State government coffers has been denied bail after he was deemed a flight risk by the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

Iqbal Sharma, a Gupta family ‘associate’ and a former Transnet board member, will therefore remain behind bars after his bid for freedom hit a brick wall.

State prosecutor Advocate Peter Serunye told the court that Sharma was a flight risk and had failed to disclose that he had transferred R264  459 241 to Issar Global, a company based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), between 22 August 2016 and 8 December 2016.

The state further told the court that his South African assets accounted for 10 percent of his total assets.

It was also found that the accused has made more than 100 flights to and from the airports in the UAE since 2010.

Sharma is a citizen of the world and has connections to several foreign countries.

He additionally speaks three different international languages: French, Urdu and Hindi.

Sharma and three others were arrested on 3 June in Gauteng, Mpumalanga and the Free State.

The other three were all granted R10 000 bail.

These are former Free State, Agriculture, and Rural Development head Mbana Peter Thabethe, Limakatso Moorosi, also a former head of the same department, and Seipati Sylvia Dhlamini, the department’s former chief financial officer.

Sharma and 16 others are facing charges relating to defrauding the provincial agriculture department.

The case is in connection with a R25-million feasibility study in 2011 that was irregularly granted to Nulane Investments 204 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by Sharma.

The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months.

Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting (Pty) Ltd for R1.5-million.

Furthermore, it subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to Gateway Limited and paid the latter over R19-million.

From there, the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments 180 (Pty) Ltd, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.

The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering.

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

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

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

Investigating Directorate (ID) spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said the prosecution is ready to proceed to trial.

“The ID has concluded investigations, is ready to hand over the docket to the defence and start with the trial as soon as possible,” she said.

The other accused, including the Gupta family, are not currently in South Africa.

All the accused are expected back in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on 5 July.

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Ngwathe pays Eskom to fix damaged line

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BLACKOUT . . . The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading

Ngwathe Local Municipality in the northern Free State has paid R1.1-million to Eskom so it can repair damages to the power line in the area caused by overloading.

Eskom provincial spokesperson Stefanie Jansen van Rensburg said in a statement the payment was made on Monday morning and work to restore supplies to Parys and Vredefort has started.

“Repairs to the Eskom equipment will now commence,” said Van Rensburg.

“Based on the assessments of the damage, supply to Ngwathe should be restored by midnight tonight,” she added.

The spokesperson however said the initial repairs were focusing on the hot connections and will only be temporary to assist communities.

Another outage will be scheduled to repair the transformer bushings that were also damaged during the overloading incident.

The Ngwathe electrical network tripped on Friday and damaged Eskom’s equipment due to overloading.

“Since 2018, Eskom has warned Ngwathe that their continued exceedance of their Notified Maximum Demand (NMD) – the contracted amount of electricity supplied by Eskom to the Municipality – will eventually result in damage to the Eskom network and that the municipality needs to apply for an upgrade in their NMD.

“In August 2021 and in April 2022, Eskom informed the municipality that any damage to the Eskom network that is caused by the municipality’s negligence, will be at the municipality’s cost.

“The municipality agreed to this condition and, although they were well informed and aware of the risks, they did not take the necessary precautions or made sufficient efforts to upgrade their NMD,” Van Rensburg explained.

Following the incident, Eskom insisted on the municipality making an upfront payment as it is one of the municipalities in the province sitting with a huge debt to the national power utility.

As at end June, Ngwathe’s overdue debt to Eskom totalled R1.89 billion.

Eskom says this debt continues to grow as current accounts are not paid in full.

“Ngwathe’s non-adherence to payment conditions and negligence in protecting the power system, jeopardises Eskom’s financial sustainability as well as the security of supply to the residents of towns such as Parys and Vredefort.

“Supply to Ngwathe will be restored to the capacity as per the contracted NMD.

“Risks of overloading and consequent damage remain, and it is imperative that the municipality invests in upgrading its supply,” according to the power company. – Staff Reporter

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Mangaung electricity tariffs up

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POWER TARIFFS UP . . . Local power distributor Centlec has hiked electricity charges

Electricity tariffs in Mangaung have gone up by 7.47 percent.

In a statement released on Thursday night, local power distributor Centlec said the increase was due to come into effect at midnight on July 1 following approval by the National Electricity Regulator of South Africa.

The increase will cover the period July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023.

“A guideline increase of 7.47 percent on electricity tariffs for Centlec was therefore approved with effect from the 1st of July 2022 for the 2022/23 financial year,” read part of the brief statement.

It said a more detailed outline of the increases will be announced soon. – Staff Reporter

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CUT students arrested for protesting against exams

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DISTURBANCE AT CAMPUS . . . Five students protesting against exams at the Central University of Technology in Bloemfontein have been arrested

Police have arrested five students from the Central University of Technology (CUT) for public violence after they embarked on an unsanctioned protest against the institution’s decision to have the mid-year exams conducted in person at its two campuses in Bloemfontein and Welkom starting this Thursday.

The exams are set to run until July 20.

The fracas follows an announcement by CUT acting vice-chancellor and principal Professor Alfred Ngowi on Wednesday in which he stated the exams would take place physically at the two campuses as scheduled.

Ngowi said a detailed discussion about online exams at the Welkom campus concluded that it would not be feasible to conduct online exams because circumstances have changed regarding the COVID-19 restrictions and that it was also against the policy of the university.

“CUT is a full-contact institution and not a distance learning institution and therefore does not have the authority to accredit examinations that are not done under CUT’s status as a full-contact institution,” said Ngowin in a recorded video.

Ngowi told the students that academic assessment is one of the important building blocks of their qualifications.

He warned the students against disrupting the exams saying they would face disciplinary action as such action will be illegal.

“The unreliability of the power supply may have unintended disruptive effects,” he said.

“The COVID-19 restrictions which necessitated virtual classes and virtual assessments have all been suspended and the various accrediting bodies to which CUT is affiliated may not accredit online assessments.

“Therefore, we will proceed with physical assessments.

“Management has made all necessary preparations for the smooth running of the mid-year assessments, which have been communicated to all students.

“Therefore, any student who plans to disrupt the physical examinations on our campuses must be aware of the legal and disciplinary consequences.

“In addition, the CUT management has put several measures in place to protect the constitutional rights of all our students who are prepared for and prefer to sit for physical assessments.

“Students must be aware that any disruptions of the planned and scheduled assessments are illegal and unlawful, and students who act outside the law will have to face the consequences of their actions.

“Students further need to note that failing the upcoming academic assessments will directly impact their NSFAS funding status.

“No further funding will be available to NSFAS-funded students who fail the assessments or fail to take the upcoming assessments.”

But, in a statement, members of the South African Student Congress (SASCO) at the university argued that since all assessments had taken place online due to the COVID-19 restrictions, “it is only normal that the exams take place online as well”.

SASCO also argued that some students had not received their allowances from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) and it would therefore be impossible for them to write their exams in a physical setting.

But Ngowi addressed the matter earlier in the same video: “As previously communicated through the Student Representative Council, NSFAS-funded students who still have unresolved challenges with their accommodation are encouraged to make written submissions to the relevant faculty deans in that regard.”

Park Road police spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Thabo Covane said members of Public Order Police Unit arrested five male students for public violence at the CUT’s Bloemfontein campus on Thursday morning.

He said the group of protesting students was warned by the operational commander to disperse within a given time as they were contravening the conditions stipulated in an issued court order but refused to do so.

“The protesting students became violent and started throwing stones and bottles at the police and the security officers,” said Covane.

“The police used stun grenades to disperse the crowd. The other group ran into King Edward Street and blocked traffic by placing stones on the road.

“Police then arrested the five students with ages ranging from 18 to 22 years.”

The arrested students are expected to appear in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Monday facing charges of public violence and contravening a court order. – Staff Reporter

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