$21 mil­lion in as­sets seized

Bangkok Post - - WORLD -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG: Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials raided the com­pound of a fam­ily close to for­mer Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma of South Africa on Mon­day as part of an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into cor­rup­tion at a gov­ern­ment dairy farm project.

Ac­com­pa­nied by the news me­dia, about 20 of­fi­cials seized as­sets to­talling about $21 mil­lion at the Jo­han­nes­burg res­i­dence of the Gup­tas, three In­dian brothers who built a busi­ness em­pire through their ties to Mr Zuma, his fam­ily and po­lit­i­cal al­lies.

Na­tional pros­e­cu­tors said the as­sets be­longed to “sev­eral in­di­vid­u­als and en­ti­ties who were im­pli­cated in the of­fences of theft, fraud and money laun­der­ing” in an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a dairy farm project in Vrede, a farm­ing town in the prov­ince of Free State. The as­sets — in­clud­ing air­craft, a he­li­copter, ve­hi­cles and bank ac­counts — have been frozen pend­ing the out­come of a crim­i­nal trial, pros­e­cu­tors said.

The dairy farm has be­come the first high-pro­file case of pub­lic cor­rup­tion from the Zuma pres­i­dency to lead to ar­rests and charges. About $21 mil­lion in pub­lic funds, meant to help strug­gling black farm­ers in Vrede, dis­ap­peared in the gov­ern­ment-backed dairy project, which was man­aged by a long­time busi­ness as­so­ciate of the Gup­tas.

Money from the project found its way into the bank ac­counts of po­lit­i­cally con­nected in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing one of the Gupta brothers, Atul, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors. The project was backed by two high-rank­ing African Na­tional Congress politi­cians close to the Gup­tas: Mosebenzi Joseph Zwane, who later be­came Mr Zuma’s min­is­ter of min­eral re­sources, and Ace Ma­gashule, the party’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral. The Gupta brothers are be­lieved to be in Dubai.

Eighty to 100 black farm­ers who were sup­posed to be­come ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the project ended up re­ceiv­ing noth­ing — an out­come that, to many, sym­bol­ised the cor­rup­tion that has flour­ished un­der the ANC, the party that has ruled South Africa since apartheid ended in 1994.

For years, the prob­lems sur­round­ing the dairy project had drawn the at­ten­tion of the South African news me­dia as well as in­ves­ti­ga­tors from the na­tional Trea­sury. But the au­thor­i­ties made ar­rests in the case only in Fe­bru­ary, af­ter Mr Zuma was ousted as pres­i­dent.

The case is re­garded as a test of how far his suc­ces­sor, Cyril Ramaphosa, will be able to carry out his pledge to root out cor­rup­tion in gov­ern­ment.

So far, no ANC of­fi­cials have been ar­rested or had their as­sets seized.

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