The NPA had appealed a previous court ruling handed down by Judge Maletsatsi Mahalelo on the matter.
In November 2019, the Johannesburg High Court provisionally froze the assets – allegedly linked to the looting of Transnet.
However, the court, in October 2020, reversed this ruling after finding that then-Investigating Directorate (ID) head Hermione Cronje had failed to disclose various material facts during the initial proceedings.
The material facts the court in the ruling found the state had failed to disclose, included that there had been what Regiments described as an “anti-dissipation” order handed down.
They also included that there was a settlement agreement between the company and Transnet.
But now the court has overturned the same ruling, News24 has reported.
Judge Raylene Keightley, penning the judgment on behalf of the full bench, ruled on Tuesday that the High Court had been wrong to reject Cronje’s evidence that she was not aware of the settlement agreement between Transnet and Regiments when she applied for the freezing of the company’s directors’ assets.
These directors include Niven Pillay, Litha Nyhonyha and Eric Wood.
In its court papers, the NPA indicated that Pillay, Nyhonyha and Wood would face charges of fraud, corruption and money laundering for their alleged role in a criminal conspiracy at Transnet that involved, among others, Gupta kingpin Salim Essa.
This related to the controversial contract for 1,064 locomotives.
Meanwhile, Keightley further pointed out that the three directors had acknowledged that Regiments had actually not paid the settlement amount to Transnet.
“Until such payment was made, the agreement was not relevant to the restraint proceedings. [Advocate] Cronje was under no obligation to investigate and inquire into the Transnet settlement’s existence.
“Therefore, we are of the view that the Transnet agreement was not material to the application for a provisional restraint order. Its non-disclosure was not a valid reason to discharge the provisional restraint and the Court a quo erred in finding that it was,” the judgment read.
Regiments had previously struck a deal to make a “full and final settlement” to Transnet for money earned for the locomotives contract and a China Development Bank loan.
On whether there were reasonable grounds for believing the directors may be convicted of a crime, which would justify their assets being permanently seized, the court also said: “None of the evidence relied on by the NDPP to found reasonable grounds for believing that the defendants might be convicted on the corruption charges (or indeed any of the other offences) is manifestly false or unreliable.
“This is underlined by the crucial fact that the defendants have failed to put up any substantial answer to the NDPP’s case against the defendants on these offences.”
The court also granted the NPA’s request to adjust the value of the assets from R1 billion to R1.6 billion.
The Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) has since welcomed the latest judgment.
“Outa was concerned at the earlier judgment in October 2020 that set aside the freezing order, and we are pleased that the NPA stood their ground and opposed the flawed ruling by Judge Maletsatsi Mahalelo,” the organisation said in a tweet.
“Great to see that NPA are taking their role in recovery of funds and accountability for State Capture seriously.
“This means a lot to civil society and the public. We really need to see the tide turning in the fight against corruption,” Outa added.