The South African government claimed on Friday that the Bank of Baroda’s local unit possessed “proceeds of crime” linked to a dairy farm project involving the politically influential Gupta business family, Bloomberg reported. The Indian lender is accused of having transferred public funds meant for a state-owned farm to the Indian-born Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh.
Part of the money meant for the dairy project is still in a current account with the Indian bank and it is illegal, Thato Ntimutse, a lawyer for the National Prosecuting Authority, told the High Court in Bloemfontein. In the court on Thursday, the Bank of Baroda had objected to the freezing of the funds amounting to 30 million rand (Rs 16.3 crore).
The state-owned farm at the centre of the controversy was leased in 2012 to a company linked to the Guptas. However, on January 19 this year, the High Court allowed for the project’s assets and bank accounts to be frozen after prosecutors claimed that the funds meant for the project had gone into the hands of the Guptas. Atul Gupta and companies related to him allegedly received more than 220 million rand (Rs 119.7 crore) of the funds. He got 10 million rand (Rs 5.4 crore) himself, the prosecutors claimed.
The Gupta family has close ties to former President Jacob Zuma, and they have often been accused of influencing government business and appointments – allegations they deny. The crackdown on the dairy farm project came soon after Cyril Ramaphosa replaced Zuma as the leader of the ruling party in December 2017. In February, Zuma quit as president amid corruption allegations, and was replaced by Ramaphosa.
In court, Atul Gupta has denied that cash meant for the dairy farm was transferred to his private bank accounts. The High Court judge Andre Fouche Jordaan reserved the judgement in the case till March 9.
Meanwhile, a report in The Hindu published on Wednesday showed that Bank of Baroda allegedly played a “crucial role” in allowing the Guptas to move “hundreds of millions of dollars linked to alleged dirty deals into offshore accounts”. The bank has denied any wrongdoing.