The Guptas have won a major legal battle against the state — one that will result in more than R250m in the family’s business and personal assets being unfrozen.
On Monday, the High Court in Bloemfontein released all assets that had formed part of a restraint order granted to the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) in relation to the Estina dairy farm matter.
The court found in favour of Gupta-linked companies and associates after the Guptas had approached the court shortly after the seizure to have the restraint order set aside.
Judge Phillip Loubser found that there were no reasonable grounds, based on the evidence before him, to uphold the provisional restraint order and to believe that Gupta family members‚ associates and businesses would be convicted on money-laundering and fraud charges linked to the alleged Estina Dairy Project scam.
This is a second‚ devastating blow for the state in its Estina prosecution.
Earlier in 2018‚ its first successful attempt to freeze R220m in assets linked to Estina as the proceeds of crime‚ or the instrumentality of an offence‚ was reversed by High Court Judge Fouche Jordaan.
Key to that ruling was an affidavit filed by the Bank of Baroda‚ in which it 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.
During that successful challenge‚ Gupta advocate Mike Hellens described the state as “recklessly incompetent”.
The AFU then applied for the “restraint” of R250m in Gupta assets‚ which included 43 residential‚ farm and business properties‚ two aircraft‚ a helicopter‚ a Porsche‚ Lamborghini‚ Range Rovers and other cars, and bank accounts belonging to Oakbay Investments and Sahara Computers. They were granted an order for the restraint of these assets‚ which would have been subject to confiscation if and when the state succeeded in convicting those implicated in the alleged scam.
The Guptas and their associates challenged that order on the basis that the state did not have adequate evidence to convict them of the charges against them.
Loubser agreed‚ pointing out in court on Monday that evidence that the national director of public prosecutions had relied on to support the preservation of the Gupta assets “shows many shortcomings at this point”.
Source – Business Day