BLOEMFONTEIN, March 9 – Judge Fouche Jordan on Friday agreed in the Bloemfontein High Court to unfreeze R10 million belonging to controversial businessman Atul Gupta.
The money had been frozen by the Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) which suspected that it was part of the more than R200 million meant for the Vrede dairy project in the Free State.
Gupta, whose whereabouts remain unknown, successfully contested the preservation order secured by the (AFU). He was represented by Advocate Rafik Bhana.
Last week, the NPA told the court the funds were part of the millions of rand siphoned from the Free State provincial government meant for a dairy project designed to benefit poor black farmers in the province.
At least eight suspects have appeared in court in connection with these funds. However, Gupta was not arrested. He is known to have left the country but his whereabouts remain unknown.
“Legitimate money was mixed with proceeds of crime,” said Thato Ntimutse for the AFU in his arguments to court, adding that millions of ill-gotten money was paid into a pool account held by the Bank of Baroda in order to mix it with clean money and hide what is believed to be illicit transactions.
Michael Hellens, for the Gupta-owned companies, argued that the State was presenting new arguments, as the facts raised by the State were “not part of the files submitted to court”.
Hellens is acting on behalf of Aerohaven Trading (Pvt) Ltd, Oakbay Investments (Pvt) Ltd, Westdawn Investments (Pvt) Ltd, Annex Distribution (Pvt) Ltd and Islandsite Investments One Eighty (Pvt) Ltd.
Advocate Luc Spiller, for the Bank of Baroda, said the State was contradicting itself by assuming the funds were proceeds of crime without substantive proof.
“The State is making absurd accusations. That money has been withdrawn and it’s gone, so why freeze the account years later? You cannot justify the preservation order in any way. This preservation order must be set aside,” said Spiller.
The judge ruled in favour of Gupta.