Former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma – arrested on fraud and money laundering charges linked to the Vrede dairy farm project – has denied any association with the Gupta family.
Sharma will appear again in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday morning for a formal bail application after spending several nights in custody.
‘No merit’ to allegations
On Monday, the State asked for a postponement, saying it was not ready to respond to his “voluminous” affidavit, which it received on Sunday evening.
Prosecutor advocate Peter Serunye said the State needed to verify certain information. In his affidavit, which will be read in court on Tuesday, Sharma said:
“I have no association whatsoever with the Gupta family. The State has made bald allegations of my association with the Guptas. There is no merit to this. I note that the investigating officer has alleged that I am able to flee South Africa and set up a life elsewhere given my relationship with the Gupta family and Saleem Essa. Firstly, I have not had any contact with any of the Gupta family members since 2014.
“My last interaction with Saleem Essa was in Dubai, during December 2017, when I bumped into him at the hotel in which I was booked when I was holidaying with my wife in Dubai. That meeting lasted for approximately two minutes when we greeted each other and exchanged very brief pleasantries.”
Released on bail
Sharma was among four people arrested last week in Gauteng, the Free State and Mpumalanga.
His co-accused – the former head of the Free State’s agriculture department, Limakatso Moorosi, and chief financial officer Seipati Dlamini – were released on R10 000 bail each last Thursday.
The former head of the Free State agriculture department, Peter Thabethe who spent the weekend in police cells, successfully applied for bail on Monday. He was also released on R10 000 bail.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) alleged the four accused colluded to divert funds meant for rural development in the province, News24 reported.
According to the NPA, the funds were placed at the disposal of the Guptas. The alleged fraud is connected with a R25 million feasibility study in 2011, which was irregularly granted to Nulane Investment 204, a company owned and controlled by Sharma.
The company had to provide a report to the department within seven months. However, Nulane subcontracted the work to Deloitte Consulting for R1.5 million.
The company further subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to Gateway Limited, and paid R19 million.
The funds were allegedly diverted to Islandsite Investments 180, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.
Spokesperson NPA Sindisiwe Seboka previously said the fifth suspect in the matter, Iqbal Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on 15 June 2021, owing to health reasons.
On Tuesday, Sharma will argue the charges against him are not as “strong as the State alleges”.
Sharma said the State had been investigating the case for a number of years.
“I have had knowledge of the investigation into the affairs of Nulane since at least June 2020, and I have made no attempt to leave South Africa.”
He added he intended to plead not guilty to the charges.
Sharma said Nulane was no longer in existence, adding he would not longer represent it and it should not be cited in legal proceedings.
“I must point out that at all material times [relevant to the draft indictment] I was not the controlling mind of Nulane. This is a matter which I will deal with during the course of the trial proceedings.”
He added he was not a flight risk, saying if necessary, he was prepared to surrender his passports to police, together with his UAE residence card, pending the finalisation of the trial.
“I have co-operated fully with the State thus far and duly intend to continue doing so. My continued incarceration will serve no interest to the State in that it [the State] will be required to outlay further resources,” read his affidavit.
Sharma should he continue to be incarcerated, he would “suffer undue hardships and prejudice which will amount to an infringement of my dignity and integrity”.