State thrashed in R250m court battle with the Guptas
Guptas laughing all the way to the bank as high court unfreezes their assets
“A serious blow to the fight against organised crime”.
That’s how the National Prosecuting Authority has reacted to the Guptas’ successful court bid to unfreeze R250-million of their assets – which the state tried to argue may be the benefits of the alleged Estina Dairy Project scam.
The Bloemfontein High Court was not convinced, finding that there no reasonable grounds to believe that the family, their associates or their businesses may be convicted on charges relating to that alleged scam.
The Guptas' lawyer, Rudi Krause, says the judgment vindicates the family’s stance “that there is no evidence against them”. He added: “We have made it clear to the National Prosecuting Authority that they should withdraw the case against our clients. If they pursue this case now, they do so at their own threshold.”
Krause said Monday’s ruling by Judge Phillip Loubser made it clear the NPA “couldn’t pass the lowest threshold required” in their second bid to freeze the Gupta assets.
“The state was unable to convince a court that our clients may be convicted. Not will, but may. There’s no evidence against these people.”
This is a second, devastating blow for the state in its Estina prosecution. Earlier this year, its first successful attempt to freeze R220-million in assets linked to the alleged Estina Dairy Project scam as the proceeds of crime, or the instrumentality of an offence, was reversed by High Court Judge Fouche Jordaan.Following that ruling, the state successfully froze R250-million in Gupta assets, on the basis that they could be confiscated following the conviction of Gupta family members and associates in the ongoing Estina criminal prosecution.
Judge Loubser has now reversed this second order – which he made – and suggested he would not have made it in the first place if he'd had access to the Jordaan ruling and an affidavit by the Bank of Baroda.
In that affidavit, the bank argued that the AFU had mistakenly used its Nedbank pool account – which served 750 clients – to argue that Estina had made payments directly to Atul Gupta, and other Gupta entities.
Reacting to Loubser’s ruling, the NPA’s Luvuyo Mfaku said the state was “very surprised” by the decision.
“We never expected this kind of ruling. It is a serious blow to the fight against organised crime, because Asset Forfeiture processes exist to ensure that those implicated in such organised crime do not benefit financially.
“We will study the judgment before we consider our legal options in response to it. But this is a serious setback.”