The Free State High Court on Wednesday granted bail of R500,000 to former Transnet board member and Gupta-linked businessman, Iqbal Sharma.
The NPA’s Investigative Directorate (ID) spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka said the court ordered Sharma to pledge R600,000 of his retirement annuity policy within 72 hours, among other conditions for bail.
“Additionally, he is requested to give full disclosure to the state of all his foreign assets held by himself and his wife, including the nature, location and approximate value including bank accounts numbers and details to the state. Additionally, he is not to leave Gauteng without consent from the investigating officer,” Seboka said.
Earlier, judge Joseph Mhlambi has postponed the delivery of his judgment on the bail appeal to 2pm on Wednesday afternoon.
This was to allow him to make a determination on “possible” bail conditions should he overturn a previous denial of bail for Sharma.
The state wanted the matter postponed for another two weeks to obtain documentation that would help ascertain the value of the company, Issar Global, in which Sharma is a 50% shareholder, to help them with possible bail condition recommendations.
Prosecutor Peter Serunye pointed out that previously the former deputy director-general of the Department of Trade and Industry was not entirely truthful about Issar Global’s bank account in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Mhlambi denied the state’s request for postponement after Sharma’s legal counsel, Mannie Witz, said he had already provided the prosecution with the share certificate for Issar Global and other documents relating to the alleged Gupta affiliate’s retirement annuities for bail reference.
He said he was struggling to get Sharma to sign off on documentation to allow access to Issa Global’s banking records due to stringent Covid-19 restrictions that make it impossible for anyone, including an inmate’s family members or legal counsel, to enter the Grootvlei prison.
Witz argued in proceedings on Friday, 9 July, his client was not the flight risk he had been made out to be by the prosecution and had, in fact, always returned home to South Africa from his extensive travels abroad.
He further reiterated that Sharma had been aware of investigations into his affairs for some time and had not only cooperated with authorities but did not flee the country.
Witz, who previously represented former Bosasa chief operating officer Angelo Agrizzi in criminal proceedings emanating from the Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, said the state also tried to have bail denied to Agrizzi in the same way as Sharma, but failed to do so after Agrizzi’s October 2020 bail denial was overturned.
On 14 October 2020, Agrizzi was denied bail by the Specialised Commercial Crime Court. Agrizzi appealed magistrate Phillip Venter’s ruling in the South Gauteng High Court in late October 2020, which found in his favour, granting him what was then to be estimated as R16 million bail. He put up his house in Italy as surety.
“On appeal in the South Gauteng High Court division, Agrizzi, who is a man of assets, who had money and property overseas, was granted bail correcting the lower court’s ‘misdirection’ in a high amount together with stringent bail conditions which he is complying with to date,” Witz said.
The business consultant was arrested alongside the former Free State Agriculture Department Head, Peter Thabethe, Deputy Director-General of the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (Cogta) Sylvia Dlamini, Bloem Water CEO Limakatso Moorosi and Sharma’s brother-in-law Dinesh Patel.
This was in connection with a R25 million feasibility study awarded to Nulane Investments – owned by the alleged Gupta affiliate – to ascertain the feasibility of the Vrede dairy project under the “Mohoma Mobung” initiative.
Sharma’s co-accused were all granted R10,000 bail despite the state opposing. Magistrate Estelle de Lange denied the former Transnet board member bail, deeming him to be a flight risk.
During bail proceedings last month, the state contended that the vast majority of Sharma’s estate lies outside of the country, with only 10% of his assets in the country. This is in stark contradiction to the accused’s assertion that South Africa is home, a place he often returns to from his frequent work trips abroad.
State prosecutor Peter Serunye also maintained Sharma deliberately concealed information that Issar Global – a company he owns in the UAE – received more than R200 million between August and December 2016 from South Africa. Serunye said it was likely used the funds to set up a safe haven in the UAE.
The R25 million feasibility study central to the case was subcontracted out by Nulane Investments to Deloitte for only R1.5 million. Nulane then subcontracted the work already carried out by Deloitte to Gateway Limited and paid them R19 million. The state alleges the funds were laundered into varied accounts thereafter, including that of Islandsite Investments owned by the Gupta family.
The state has in the light of the money laundering allegations, approached Interpol to issue red notices for Atul and Rajesh Gupta, as well as their wives, Chetali and Arti. While red notices for the Gupta family have been requested, notices have been issued and greenlit for their associates, former Nulane Investments Bank of Baroda account signatory Ankit Jain, Wone Management director Ravindra Nath and Pragat Investments directors Ramesh Bhat and Jagdish Parekh.
- This article originally appeared on OFM News and has been republished with permission.