EXCLUSIVE: Inside the hunt for Atul Gupta
Hawks raiders found a 'warm bed' as they swooped on Gupta compound. Search warrant now issued
As the Hawks swooped on the Guptas’ Saxonwold, Johannesburg, compound on Wednesday morning seeking high-profile suspects, they found instead a “warm bed” — a sign that someone had awoken and fled.Times Select now understands from two senior officials in the security cluster that the Hawks have issued a warrant for Atul Gupta, thought to have evaded them in Wednesday’s raids.The raids resulted in five arrests — including other Gupta family members and several business associates.It is understood that the Hawks are also seeking assistance to extradite some of the Gupta family members and their associates who are thought to be overseas. Other governments have been quietly assisting South African investigators.
The Guptas and their associates are being sought for charges relating to corruption, money laundering, and the acquisition and possession of proceeds of unlawful activities in the R220-million that was siphoned off in the Free State government Vrede Dairy farm project meant for poor farmers.
“They (Hawks) found a warm bed when they got into the house. That one is being sought after. He is a fugitive,” said one senior official.
Neighbours in upmarket Saxonwold watched in amazement as armed Hawks officers blocked the road outside the Gupta mansion. “Scumbags,” yelled some at Gupta security guards outside.Hawks spokesman Hangwani Mulaudzi said the raids were part of the larger state capture investigation.
“We are not playing around. We take this investigation very seriously‚” Mulaudzi said.
A police source with knowledge of the operation said officers had been searching for specific documentation and electronic devices.
“These guys are searching all the rooms‚ literally going through the place inch by inch. It’s very specific items that they are looking for here and elsewhere‚” the source said.
“The concern is that because the Guptas have known about this (state capture investigation), things might have disappeared. But so far things are looking good.”A separate Hawks source said they had carried out other raids away from the media spotlight, which had yielded good results.
“You wouldn’t believe the size of the compound. It’s like a rabbit warren. Dozens of rooms‚ nooks and crannies. It is going to be a long process to find what we are looking for.”
Times Select understands the arrests were supposed to have been executed last week Friday and Saturday but discussions about warning statements, arrest and search warrants between the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority held back the process.
It is understood that about 17 individuals are now facing arrest and these include Atul — who scored R10-million in cash from the diary project through an entity called Estina, with Kamal Vasram as the sole director, which ran the project.
Vasram, who was previously employed by the Guptas, later liquidated the company last year.
NPA spokesman Luvuyo Mfaku said they could not comment in detail on the discussions that took place before the raids and would comment only once the accused have appeared in court.“Our role as NPA is to ensure that everything is done according to the four corners of the law. We gave guidance to the investigators on what needs to be done and to ensure that everyone’s rights are protected,” said Mfaku.
On Wednesday the Hawks confirmed that a number of individuals linked to the Guptas and their companies in relation to the Vrede Farm investigations will appear in the Bloemfontein Commercial Crimes Court today.
“Operations are still ongoing and further details will be made available at a later stage,” said Hawks spokesman Brigadier Hangwani Mulaudzi.
The wheels in the state capture probe which led to Wednesday’s raids only started moving after the former head of the Hawks, Berning Ntlemeza, was removed and after threats of court actions against the authorities last year.
At the time it was alleged that the authorities were dragging their feet on acting against the Guptas because of their close ties to the now embattled President Jacob Zuma, whose son Duduzane was their business partner.
Significantly the Hawks raids came as Zuma faced his darkest hour as the ANC caucus in parliament said it would support a motion of no confidence against him, effectively sealing his fate.
It is understood that five properties belonging to the Guptas and their associates were raided across Gauteng by officers involved in the state capture probe. The properties were in Bedfordview, Houghton, Saxonwold and Sandton area.
A United States embassy source said that US and United Kingdom government officials had been helping SA law enforcement authorities in the “soft monitoring” of the suspects and were specifically providing information on the movement of assets, cash and people.
The information provided included information on airline tickets that were bought, especially in the names of the three Gupta brothers and their alleged accomplices.
The Sunday Times revealed last month how the Guptas spent millions of rands on a private jet and a fleet of luxury vehicles, using taxpayers’ money from the Vrede Dairy Farm Project, meant to alleviate poverty.
A preservation order obtained by the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the NPA in the High Court in Bloemfontein last month reveals that Atul received the money despite not having any interest in the project or providing any farming-related services.