Gupta family associate and businessman Iqbal Sharma and his brother-in-law Dinesh Patel have pleaded not guilty to all charges levelled against them in the Nulane Investment fraud and money-laundering case.
The duo was being tried with five other accused and three companies at the Bloemfontein High Court on Monday, where they were expected to account for their involvement in the alleged R24.9-million feasibility study “scam” in the Free State.
The accused include former Free State head of the department for rural development (FSDoRD) Peter Thabethe; former head of FSDoA (Free State department of agriculture) Limakatso Moorosi; former FSDoA chief financial officer Seipati Dhlamini; and Islandsite director Ronica Ragavan.
The companies indicted include Nulane, which is owned by Sharma, and Islandsite Investment One Hundred and Eighty.
It is alleged that between 2011 and 2012, millions of rands were paid to Nulane Investment to conduct a feasibility study for the Free State’s Mohoma Mobung project in relation to the Estina Dairy Farm scandal.
The state alleges that at the time, Nulane Investment had no employees on its books, and instead subcontracted Deloitte to do the feasibility study and produce a report.
The Free State government paid R24.9-million to Nulane Investment for the report, which was later compiled by Deloitte. However, Deloitte’s fee for the work done on behalf of Nulane Investment was only R1.5-million.
“The case is based on allegations that R24.9-million was paid to Nulane Investment to conduct a feasibility study for the Free State province’s flagship Mohoma Mobung project on the basis that Nulane had unique skills to perform the work,” explained National Prosecuting Authority’s investigating directorate spokesperson Sindisiwe Seboka.
“The state alleged that Nulane Investment, however, had no employees on its books and in fact subcontracted Deloitte to produce the report, for which Deloitte was paid R1.5-million.
“It is alleged that the only change made to the Deloitte report was to identify Paras Diary as a suitable implementing partner for the development of a milk-processing plant in Vrede.”
Sharma, through his legal representative Bronwynne Forbay, pleaded not guilty for himself and his company. According to Forbay, Sharma has chosen to reserve his right to remain silent and not convey his version until witnesses take the stand.
Patel, who is a representative of Nulane Investment, another Gupta family associate Ragavan and Dhlamini have also pleaded not guilty and offered no explanation for their pleas.
Moorosi, who also disputed the charges, argued through her legal representative that the Mohoma Mobung project was legitimate and approved by the government, saying there was even a budget for it.
The case continues and is expected to run until March.
Meanwhile, Siphiwe Mahlangu, director of forensic auditing at the National Treasury, has taken the stand as the state’s first witness.
It is alleged that Mahlangu was involved in the reviewing of the documents relevant to the feasibility study and procurement procedures.
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