Guptas' elusive jet among assets seized
The Asset Forfeiture Unit has begun seizing assets worth at least R250m, including houses, luxury vehicles, the Bombardier jet and other aircraft
The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) has moved to seize cars, aircraft and properties worth at least R250m belonging to the Guptas and their associates, allegedly bought with looted state funds.
Assets include the Guptas’ elusive Bombardier jet, which landed at Lanseria airport on Friday after Export Development Canada (EDC), the Canadian bank that financed it, went to court to have it grounded.
On Monday, the AFU began to implement a restraining order obtained from the High Court in Bloemfontein against assets deemed to have been bought with money stolen from the Estina dairy project in the Free State.
Also on the list are dozens of vehicles — including several Mercedes-Benzes and Land Rovers, a Porsche Cayenne and a Lamborghini Gallardo — the bank accounts of Gupta-linked companies and houses, businesses and farms across the country. These include the Gupta homes in Saxonwold, which were raided on Monday, as well as houses in Roggebaai and Constantia in Cape Town, and Umhlanga in Durban
Three aircraft to be seized are the Bombardier jet with the tail number ZS-OAK, a Bell helicopter and a Cessna Citation registered as ZS-AKG.
The Guptas returned the Bombardier to Lanseria pending an appeal against a grounding order obtained in March by EDC, which cancelled their loan agreement citing reputational damage and the risk that the jet could be used in illegal activities.
In his founding affidavit for the order, AFU head Knorx Molelle cited EDC’s case as a reason for going after the jet as it showed the Guptas had a “propensity to unlawfully alienate and dissipate property” when facing legal proceedings.
Law enforcement agencies descended on the Gupta family compound in Saxonwold on April 15 2018. Here’s what we know so far.
EDC said the authorities had not informed it that the jet would be seized.
“EDC had already included the South African authorities in its March court application and will work with relevant authorities to resolve the issues surrounding these assets,” spokesman Phil Taylor said.
Adding to the urgency of seizing the Guptas jets was the fact that the family had applied to the Civial Aviation Authority in January to re-register its Cessna Citation in another country.
Any delay “may well result in the dissipation of the realisable property”, said Molelle.
Eight people have already appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on charges of corruption‚ fraud, theft and money laundering for allegedly looting money meant for the dairy farm. They are Ronica Ragavan, CEO of Gupta holding company Oakbay Investments; former CEO Nazeem Howa; Ashu Chawla, CEO of the Guptas’ Sahara Computers; Varun Gupta, a nephew of the Gupta brothers; Kamal Vasram, an IT salesman at Sahara Computers, who was the sole director of Estina; and three former officials of the Free State agriculture department.
In his affidavit, Molelle said there was evidence that the Bank of Baroda had been used to launder the Estina money, but these funds could be lost because the bank was in the process of closing in SA.
“This may well result in the deliberate dissipation of funds should those funds be immediately returned to the various respondents and related entities and persons,” he said.
He pointed out that several of the entities implicated in receiving funds allegedly looted, the dairy project, Gupta mining companies Shiva Uranium and Tegeta, had been placed in business rescue, increasing the risk that the money would be dissipated.
A curator’s report cited in the AFU papers said R250m of Estina’s money had been diverted to a constellation of Gupta entities that had no business dealings or relationships with the dairy project.
This included R169.5m to Gateway, an alleged Gupta front company in the United Arab Emirates. Some of the money was used to pay for the Sun City wedding of the Guptas’ niece. The curator’s report said another R10m went into Atul Gupta’s personal bank account.
Molelle alleged that some of those arrested who held directorships in Gupta companies had deliberately placed themselves and their property outside of the jurisdiction of the court in a bid to evade prosecution.
The AFU papers singled out Ragavan, who was the sole or co-director of Gupta companies with vast assets but whose own net worth was just R200,000. These included Confident Concepts, which owns 73 properties and 31 vehicles worth R46m, whereas the only cars in her name are a Toyota Tazz and Ford Fiesta. Ragavan was also a co-director with Chawla of Islandsite and Westdawn, companies which owned the three aircraft, including the $51m Bombardier, and properties worth R190m.
Law enforcement agencies swooped on the Guptas’ Saxonwold compound in Johannesburg on Monday afternoon for the second time this year.
The Gupta brothers are not in SA and there is an outstanding arrest warrant for family patriarch Ajay Gupta in relation to another corruption case involving state capture.
The Guptas' lawyer, Rudi Krause, on Monday criticised the AFU and the National Prosecuting Authority for the way the matter was handled.
“With all due respect one would have expected the national director of public prosecutions, the NPA and especially the AFU to act with more circumspection and responsibility after the previous order that they obtained in Bloemfontein,” he said.
“Apparently they do not understand the provisions of the prevention of organised crime act.”
He said they had brought the application in the Bloemfontein court based on the same facts as the previous application.
Krause will approach the court to have this recent order set aside and said he is confident that the court will find in their favour.
Last month, the Guptas received a boost when the Bloemfontein High Court reduced a preservation order in the Estina dairy farm project from R220m to R40m and also overturned the freezing of R10m in Atul Gupta’s personal bank account.
Following this their attorneys wrote to the NPA, the Hawks and the SAPS insisting that the charges be dropped for a lack of evidence.