Ajay Gupta. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/MARTIN RHODES
Ajay Gupta. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/MARTIN RHODES

The Estina dairy project scam case against several Gupta family members and business associates was provisionally withdrawn this morning — and Ajay Gupta has already predicted “it will never see the light of day again”.

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) this morning formally announced that the Estina case had been withdrawn against the eight accused: former Oakbay CEO Nazeem Howa, Varun Gupta, the nephew of the Gupta brothers, Oakbay, former Sahara Computers CEO Ashu Chawla, Estina director Kamal Vasram and three Free State provincial government officials Peter Thabethe, Sylvia Dlamini and Takisi Masiteng.

The NPA had until Friday to hand over the finalised docket and indictment in the case, in which it alleged that R250m intended for the upliftment of poor black farmers was siphoned to Gupta companies. It failed to do so, so the case was set to have been struck from the roll this morning.

The Bloemfontein Magistrates Court in August gave prosecutors three months to complete their investigation, so the accused could go on trial. Instead, the prosecution chose to provisionally withdraw the case — a strategy that the state hopes will make it easier for it to reinstate charges at a later date. 

“The withdrawal of charges is said to be provisional, but I am confident that this matter will never see the light of day again,” Ajay Gupta said in a statement released this morning.

The accused were all arrested on February 14, just hours before then President Jacob Zuma resigned. They faced charges of fraud, theft, conspiracy to commit fraud and theft, contravening the Public Finance Management Act, contravening the Companies Act and contravening sections of the Prevention of Organised Crime Act.

The NPA last week notified lawyers for the Guptas and their associates that the prosecuting authority “has not received information regarding the Mutual Legal Assistance requests made to India and the United Arab Emirates, as a result the investigations are not finalised”.

This information was in relation to the alleged use of foreign accounts to launder money intended for the Estina beneficiaries. The Guptas have denied any wrongdoing.

Magistrate Collin Nekosi criticised the state for a “lacuna in decision-making” that “has resulted in unreasonable delays in the completion of the proceedings‚ which if left unchecked could substantially prejudice the accused”. 

In his statement, Ajay Gupta said the outcome of the Estina matter confirms that the family was “completely justified in their belief” that they would not be dealt with fairly by the NPA and SA Police Service. This was also their reasoning for not coming to SA to testify in person at the Zondo commission into state capture, an argument that was rejected by deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo.

In his statement, Ajay Gupta suggests that family is considering its options in regards to possible legal action against the state over what he describes as an unjustified and malicious prosecution.

“That which cannot be undone is the significant legal cost that the family had to incur in order to secure their personal freedom, religious freedom and the right not have their property seized arbitrarily,” he said in the statement.

Ajay Gupta said the prosecution has caused “massive damage” to the family’s businesses, leading to thousands of job losses.

“As will be seen in the fullness of time and despite the abuse of power wielded with reckless incompetence and indifference by the forces behind this unjustified attack, the wheels will turn and the ultimate truth will out,” he said.

The NPA’s Luvuyo Mfaku declined to comment on Ajay Gupta’s statement, saying the state would respond if and when the family chose to pursue these accusations in a legal process.