The Nulane trial: Here’s what you need to know about the Guptas’ first criminal case
The Nulane Investment scheme was considered to be the practice run for the failed R37-million Estina Dairy Project.
Ajay, left, and Atul Gupta were arrested in the UAE.
South Africans went to bed on Monday evening with the news that two of the infamous Gupta brothers, Rajesh and Atul Gupta, had been arrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), after years of being on the run from the law locally.
The brothers were identified in the Zondo reports as the linchpins behind the capture and pillaging of the state, together with former president Jacob Zuma.
The Indian-born family, who gained notoriety in South Africa for their blatant, and often improper influence over country politics under Zuma’s rule, hightailed it out of South Africa after the latter being recalled as president back in 2018.
The family has been living in Dubai since, but it’s been difficult to remain under the radar, especially after the NPA enlisted help from Interpol to track them down.
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Nulane Investments 204: The earliest known Gupta money-laundering scheme
The Zondo reports identified Nulane Investments as one of the family’s prime money-laundering vehicles.
Nulane, which was operated from Sandton, was solely owned by Gupta-linked businessman and former Transnet board member Iqbal Sharma.
In 2011, the Free State Department of Agricultural and Rural Development (DARD) awarded a R25 million contract to Nulane Investments without any competitive bidding processes to conduct a feasibility study.
Then department head Peter Thabethe recommended Sharma’s company.
Thabethe justified the deviation from normal procurement processes on the basis that DARD’s proposed foreign strategic partner (Worlds Window Impex India Pvt. Ltd) for the Mohoma Mobung project, a development programme for small-scale farmers in the Free State, wanted Nulane as its local partner.
The motivation was recommended by the then CFO Seipati Dhlamini and approved by Dr Limakatso Moorosi, the then Accounting Officer of DARD.
Nulane then subcontracted the work to Deloitte for just R1.5 million – a fraction of the cost to the government.
The balance of the R25 million payment allegedly travelled through a sophisticated money-laundering network and eventually landed in the bank accounts of several Gupta companies.
The Nulane Investment scheme was considered the practice run for the failed multi-million Rand Estina Dairy Project, which was meant to help rural farmers in the province.
The Gupta brothers form part of the list of suspects identified in the Nulane Investments case in the Free State, in which Sharma, together with a host of co-accused, including the officials who signed off on Nulane’s appointment, have already been arrested and charged.
Sharma is currently behind bars after being denied bail due to being considered a ‘great flight risk.’
The R25 million fraud and money laundering case is set for trial from 23 January 2023 until 3 March 2023.
Sharma and the Gupta connection
Sharma was the former director of the Department of Trade and Industry.
According to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa), Sharma met the Guptas in the early 2000s at a social function.
Sharma, who was fluent in Hindi, quickly became friends with the notorious family who, at the time, were mainly involved with Sahara Computers, which supplied IT equipment to Gauteng’s Department of Education.
As the Guptas expanded their business network and political friendships, Sharma introduced the family to his friend and business partner, Salim Essa.
Sharma was a close ally of the Guptas’, and attended several of their religious and social events.