South African prosecutors on Wednesday said they would withdraw corruption charges against Gupta brothers – Indian expatriate businessmen with links to former South African President Jacob Zuma – in the Estina diary farm project scam in Free State province, News24 reported.
The country’s National Prosecuting Authority has alleged that $20 million (Rs 139 crore)
meant for poor dairy farmers in Free State was supplied to the Guptas and their associates. The eight accused in the case include three Gupta brothers – Ajay, Atul and Rajesh – one of their relatives, the dairy director and three government officials.
Prosecutors are withdrawing the charges because of alleged lack of cooperation from Indian officials. The deadline to formally charge the suspects is November 30. “The investigators were working with Indian officials to gather information,” National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phaladi Shuping told AFP. “The process has been slow, so information is not forthcoming as quickly as we had hoped.” The authority said it has not received any response to the mutual legal assistance requests made to India and the United Arab Emirates.
Shuping told News24 that the charges might be reinstated once prosecutors receive “more evidence” from India and the UAE.
The dairy farm project
In 2012, the Free State government granted a lease to a company known as Estina to establish the Verde dairy project via public-private partnership. The company was allegedly linked to the Guptas. The South African government claimed in March that the Bank of Baroda’s local unit possessed “proceeds of crime” linked to the project. The Indian lender is also accused of transferring public funds meant for the state-owned farm to the Guptas.
On January 19, the High Court in Bloemfontein allowed the project’s assets and bank accounts worth R30 million (Rs 15.28 crore) to be frozen after prosecutors submitted their case.
The Gupta family has often been accused of influencing government business and appointments, allegations that 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.