Ajay Gupta. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Ajay Gupta. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Ajay Gupta‚ the patriarch of the embattled Gupta family‚ is "on the run" and surrounded by a team of heavily armed bodyguards.

Hawks officials confirmed on Thursday afternoon that Gupta was a fugitive from the law and that they had obtained a warrant for his arrest.

The warrant comes as Times Select on Wednesday ran an exclusive story indicating that Gupta’s brother Atul Gupta was also being sought.

The confirmation follows the appearance of the brothers’ nephew‚ Varun Gupta‚ in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on charges of corruption‚ fraud and theft on Thursday.

The charges relate to the theft of R220m from the Free State agricultural department.

Varun Gupta appeared alongside his co-accused — and Gupta family lieutenants — Ronica Ragavan‚ Ashu Chawla‚ Nazeem Howa‚ Kamal Vasram‚ Free State agriculture department officials Peter Thebetha and Takisi Janki Masiteng‚ and chief of staff of the Department of Mineral Resources Sylvia Dlamini.

Howa‚ Gupta‚ Chawla‚ Vasram and Gupta were released on R200‚000 bail each while Thebetha‚ Masiteng and Dlamini were each released on R10‚000 bail.

They will appear in court again on August 17.

Hawks spokesman Brig Hangwani Mulaudzi confirmed that they were searching for Ajay Gupta.

"As far as our team investigating state capture is concerned, he is a fugitive from the law‚" he said.

"He has surrounded himself with bodyguards. We spoke to his lawyers‚ he was meant to be surrendered but never did. We have issued a warrant of arrest for him.

"Those protecting him must know they are protecting a wanted suspect. They will be charged with aiding and abetting a suspect."

He said they had flagged border posts and were hoping to close in on Ajay Gupta soon.

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