Former Transnet Board member and Gupta family associate, Iqbal Sharma, has been denied bail by Magistrate Estelle de Lange at the Bloemfontein Magistrate Court on Tuesday.
In a lengthy judgment handed down by de Lange, she said that the State sufficiently provided reasons why Sharma should not be released on bail pending a trial.
State Prosecutor Peter Serunye told the court that Sharma failed to disclose R265 million he held in his United Arab Emirates business account. Serunye said that if Sharma was released on bail, he had enough money and assets abroad that could “last him a lifetime”.
Serunye also identified over 20 countries in Africa and Asia that Sharma frequented in the last few years. The state argued that should Sharrma flee the country, there was no telling where he would go as he established many connections overseas through his years of studying and working.
Magistrate de Lange said that even though Sharma, through his legal representation, told the court he was willing to hand over all his passports and travel documents, “false passports is a reality in South Africa”.
Sharma and three others were arrested last week in Gauteng, Mpumalanga, and the Free State. This included former Free State Agriculture and Rural Development (FSDoARD) head, Peter Thabethe; former head of FSDoA, Limakatso Moorosi; and former FSDoA Chief Financial Officer, Seipati Dhlamini. The three were granted R10 000 bail each.
Sharma is among 16 accused who face charges relating to defrauding the Free State Department of Agriculture.
The fraud is in connection with a R25m feasibility study in 2011 that was irregularly granted to Nulane Investment – a company owned and controlled by Sharma. The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months. Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting for R1.5million.
Then it subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to Gateway Limited and paid them over R19million. From there, the funds were diverted to Islandsite Investments – a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family. The accused face charges of fraud and money laundering. Former government officials are also charged with contravention of the Public Finance Management Act.
The fifth suspect in the matter is Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel. He is expected to formally appear in court on June 15, owing to health reasons. They are charged together with three companies, Nulane Investment 204, Wone Management, Pragat Investment and Islandsite Investments.
The balance of the accused listed in the charge sheet are not currently in South Africa.
The case is expected back in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on July 5, 2021.
“The Investigating Directorate has concluded investigations and is ready to hand over the docket to the defence and start with the trial as soon as possible,” said Investigating Directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka.