The Herald (South Africa)


Five to appear on charges of graft and theft of state money

- Nomahlubi Jordaan and Graeme Hosken

AT least three close Gupta associates‚ including the nephew of controvers­ial brothers Atul‚ AJ and Rajesh Gupta‚ are to appear in the Bloemfonte­in Magistrate’s Court today on charges of money laundering‚ corruption and theft of state money.

The three – who include Gupta lieutenant­s Ashu Chawla and Ronica Ragovan and nephew Varun Gupta – were among five people arrested in raids by the Hawks early yesterday.

At least two other suspects are expected to hand themselves over at court tomorrow.

The five people were arrested in connection with the investigat­ions into the controvers­ial Vrede dairy farm project in the Free State.

The raids were carried out on the Gupta family’s Saxonwold compound‚ homes in Bedfordvie­w and Houghton‚ as well as at the Sahara Computer head office in Midrand.

Simultaneo­us raids were also carried out at Free State provincial government offices.

When the Hawks swooped on the Saxonwold compound, they blocked off the road in the elite suburb.

About 15 cars and a strong police contingent were seen outside the compound.

The Hawks drove out later in flashy cars believed to belong to the family.

Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said the arrests were part of an ongoing operation.

He said they were expecting more arrests and were confident of their case.

Saxonwold residents hailed the arrests, saying they were pleased the law had finally taken its course.

“The proliferat­ion of the Gupta compound has had residents up in arms,” Saxonwold resident Richard Bottger said.

“In recent years they [Guptas] have blocked out the gates‚ but before you could see government officials coming in.

“To see the Hawks here is really encouragin­g.

“This is showing the electorate there is a positive change coming.

“This is fantastic‚ it feels like real change is happening in South Africa and it’s positive for all of us.”

Another resident, Brownyn Coppeller, said: “I feel an enormous sense of relief that it’s finally happened.

“But at the same time‚ I feel angry that it has taken so long.

“The damage has been done and you wonder if everything will be put back together again.”

The raids are believed to be linked to last month’s preservati­on order which the Asset Forfeiture Unit obtained in relation to the Estina Dairy Farm project at Vrede.

The project was meant to be a lifeline to indigent farmers but saw millions of rands allegedly siphoned off to the Guptas.

Vrede Dairy Farm was not even up and running when Atul‚ the eldest of the three Gupta brothers linked to President Jacob Zuma‚ had R10-million deposited into his personal bank account by the company hand-picked to set up the farm.

A preservati­on order obtained by the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit this week reveals that Atul received the money despite not having any interest in the project.

The order also reveals how the Guptas and their associates became beneficiar­ies of most of R220-million paid by the Free State agricultur­e department to the company‚ Estina.

WHILE it wasn’t exactly a Valentine’s Day massacre to rival Al Capone’s, the arrest yesterday morning of Gupta family members and their crony associates was the belated legal skirmish this country has been hankering for.

It follows the pre-emptive asset seizures announced by the National Prosecutin­g Authority last month, with the promise of bigger things to come.

These are certainly heady days, such have been the years of steady erosion in the rule of law.

The scale of Gupta influence on the presidency is, by now, well chronicled.

The family’s taint reached all levels of government, but most tellingly to the top.

As far as this cast of characters is concerned, the days of impunity are over.

The charges will multiply in time as evidence previously stifled comes to light.

The Guptas, shielded from the long arm of the law by their chief enabler, Jacob Zuma, deserve every scale of misfortune that comes their way from now until the day the jail cell slams shut.

For some, though, this first salvo – said to be linked to the Vrede dairy farm scandal in the Free State – is too little, too late.

Perhaps, but it illustrate­s what happens when a country allows itself to be abused, and its public institutio­ns compromise­d by unethical and corrupt leaders.

It remains fixable over time and Cyril Ramaphosa now has a chance to do just that, or at least begin the process, until elections are called and voters have their say.

But there is another way to look at the timing of these charges being investigat­ed by the Hawks.

Zuma, who hardly needs this distractio­n in the final moments of his presidency, will suddenly find himself fighting several fires, but without any of the executive powers he used to wield.

He will learn very soon how diminished his influence has become.

The ground has unmistakab­ly shifted for the better, for the nation’s sake.

It presents an opportunit­y to ram home the advantage, something entirely in the hands of police and prosecutor­s, who – hopefully – have grown emboldened enough to cast their net wider and include politician­s, public officials and ministers, among them Zuma himself.

 ?? Picture: ALON SKUY ?? WELCOME MOVE: The Hawks swoop on the Guptas’ Saxonwold premises in northern Johannesbu­rg yesterday morning
Picture: ALON SKUY WELCOME MOVE: The Hawks swoop on the Guptas’ Saxonwold premises in northern Johannesbu­rg yesterday morning

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