Nulane Investment: Gupta Trial As It Stands

The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has announced that the trial for the Nulane corruption case will proceed as planned, despite the absence of Gupta brothers Rajesh and Atul. The NPA is seeking to prosecute the brothers for their alleged involvement in the siphoning off of state funds in a botched R25 million rural development project.

The Free State government had irregularly awarded a multi-million rand tender to Nulane Investments in 2011, before the funds were redirected to Islandsite Investments, a company owned by the Guptas. At least three Gupta associates are now on trial for fraud and money laundering, while three former Free State officials face an additional charge of contravening the Public Finance Management Act.

Spokesperson for the NPA’s Investigative Directorate, Sindisiwe Seboka, said that South African authorities were still in the process of negotiating the extradition of the Guptas with United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials. “The prosecution strategy has always been to proceed with the persons currently in the country and when the time comes, if the other jurisdiction so agrees, then we will continue with those that are currently here, so it does not have any bearing on this particular matter,” said Seboka.

The Nulane corruption case is centered around the Mohoma Mobung agriculture project, a feasibility study that was awarded to Nulane Investments by the Free State agriculture department at a cost of R24.9 million. The study ultimately led to the controversial Vrede Dairy Project, which cost the department R280 million.

Eight individuals are currently on trial, including two former Free State Department of Agricultural and Rural Development heads of department, Peter Thabethe and Limakatso Moorosi, and former chief financial officer Seipati Dhlamini. Thabethe and Moorosi face charges of fraud and contravening Section 86 (1) of the Public Finance Act, with the State alleging that the former heads of department unlawfully and wilfully contravened the Public Finance Management Act, resulting in wasteful expenditure.

The other accused include Iqbal Sharma, Dinesh Patel and Ronica Ragavan, as well as the company Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty, of which Ragavan was a director. All the accused have pleaded not guilty.

Acting Judge Nompumelelo Gusha has prohibited media from live streaming or recording witness testimony during the trial. The first witness, Siphiwe Mahlangu of the National Treasury, testified on documents that he received from the police. Mahlangu stated that in his opinion, the contract may have been awarded illegally and that during his investigation, he found that the procurement processes were not followed and the contract was not in line with the requirements of a public/private partnership.

The Nulane corruption case is just one of many instances of corruption and state capture that have plagued South Africa in recent years, with the Guptas at the center of many of these controversies. The trial will be closely watched as it could potentially uncover more information about the extent of the Gupta’s alleged involvement in state corruption.

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