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Fugitive Guptas will testify in state capture inquiry … but refuse to come to SA

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Zondo said it seemed the controversial family wanted to participate on their own terms. He said the fact that they were fugitives from justice was an important factor in determining whether to grant their application or not.

Ajay and Atul Gupta File picture: Independent Media

The fugitive Gupta will not travel to South Africa to experience more “incompetence and abuse of power” by the police and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and preferred to participate in the state capture commission of inquiry via video link, Ajay Gupta’s legal representative Mike Hellens told the inquiry on Thursday.

He cited the Estina diary farm case that has recently been granted a lengthy postponement in the Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court. 

Hellens is representing the Gupta brothers’ nephew Varun Gupta, Oakbay CEO Ronica Ragavan and former Sahara executive and Gupta associate, Ashu Chawla.

“They were arrested by such incompetent people who have not worked out their case, so much so that [a] few weeks ago the State asked for a further postponement and now under section 242 a, of the Criminal Procedure Act, are on time limit to produce a case by [the] end of November, failing which the case will be struck off the roll on December 4,” Hellens said.

“Before one can vindicate themselves before judicial officers, you get subjected to all these awesome powers of the police and the NPA, and in the light of that reckless incompetence, they [Gupta family], declined to be put through that.”

Commission chairman, Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said it seemed the family feared being arrested once they set foot in the country.

“Isn’t it that if you get arrested, you have a remedy if there are no grounds for you to be arrested? You can approach the courts on an urgent basis… Isn’t [it] that if there are no grounds for your arrest and detention, any judge in this country will grant you a remedy?” Zondo asked Hellens.

“Now, if you have an incompetent [Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, better known as the] Hawks, NPA as your client says, doesn’t logic say that then you have a very good prospect that they will mess up and, if they mess up, then you will get an order from a judge and you will not spend time in prison?”

Hellens said it “is not as simple as that”.

“You do not get the docket until the case is completely investigated. In the case pending in Bloemfontein, we tried to get access to the docket to show that there is no case,” he said.

Zondo asked Hellens that should he allow the Guptas to participate through video link from outside South Africa, how should he handle a situation where they refuse to answer certain questions.

Hellens replied: “It would bore very badly for them in terms of the commission terms of reference if they decline particular questions. Your inference in pursuing the truth would be drawn from the inclination to answer questions.”

Zondo said it seemed the controversial family wanted to participate on their own terms. He said the fact that they were fugitives from justice was an important factor in determining whether to grant their application or not.

Hellens said there was no evidence that there is a warrant of arrest out for any member of the family.

Other accused in the Estina case are former Free State provincial government officials Sylvia Dlamini, Petre Thabethe and Takisi Masiteng, former The New Age newspaper executive Nazeem Howa and Estina director Kamal Vasram. 

They are accused of fraud and corruption in which more than R200 million was allegedly defrauded from the Estina diary farm, a dodgy project by the Guptas and the Free State provincial government. The R200 million earmarked to benefit more than 100 emerging farmers through the Estina project was allegedly swindled in 2013 and ended up in various accounts owned and operated by the Gupta family.

At least R30 million of the loot paid for the lavish Gupta family wedding held in Sun City in the same year.

– African News Agency (ANA)