The Bloemfontein Magistrate’s Court has denied bail to former Transnet board member and Gupta associate Iqbal Sharma, and deemed him a flight risk.
Sharma on Tuesday appeared in court, following his arrest last week on fraud and money laundering charges linked to the Vrede dairy farm project.
The NPA’s Investigating Directorate (ID) had argued against granting Sharma bail saying he was a flight risk. It revealed that Sharma failed to disclose R265 million held in his United Arab Emirates (UAE) company account. He also enjoys resident rights in the UAE.
“The ID further told the court that his South African assets account for 10% of his total assets. He has made more than 100 flights to and from the airports in the UAE since 2010.
“Sharma is a citizen of the world and has connections to several foreign countries. He additionally speaks three different international languages: French, Urdu, and Hindi,” the ID said in a statement.
Magistrate Estelle de Lange agreed with the State’s argument, and said it was not in the interests of justice to release him on bail.
Sharma was arrested along with three co-accused, the former head of the Free State agriculture department Peter Thabethe, former Free State agriculture department head Dr Limakatso Moorosi and former financial officer, Seipati Dhlamini.
They were all released on R10,000 bail.
They are among 15 accused of defrauding the Free State department of agriculture through a company that Sharma owned and controlled, Nulane Investments. The ID said the rest of the accused listed in the charge sheet are not currently in South Africa.
It is alleged the company was irregularly awarded a R25 million feasibility study contract in 2011 to provide a report to the department within seven months.
Nulane, however, subcontracted the work to Deloitte for R1.5 million, while Sharma and Guptas pocketed the rest.
Furthermore, it subcontracted the work already completed by Deloitte to Gateway Limited and paid them more than R19 million.
The funds were then allegedly diverted to Islandsite Investments, a company owned and controlled by the Gupta family.
The fifth suspect in the matter, Sharma’s brother-in-law and a representative of Nulane Investments, Dinesh Patel, will formally appear on 15 June 2021 due to health reasons.
The ID said it had concluded investigations and was ready to hand over the docket to the defence in order to start with the trial as soon as possible.
The case was postponed to 5 July 2021 to allow for further investigations by the State.