Ace Magashule: Public Protector Report Represents ‘Height Of Irrationality’

Recently the Director of Shadow World Investigations, Paul Holden, testified before Deputy Justice Raymond Zondo, that the Guptas used the dairy project to launder an estimated R880 million from the Free State Provincial government.

Ace Magashule: Public Protector Report Represents ‘Height Of Irrationality’-SurgeZirc SA
Ace Magashule: Photo File: TSA

ANC Secretary-General and former Free State Premier Ace Magashule attribute Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane’s findings in the second Vrede dairy farm report to “irrationality of the highest proportions”. Mkhwebane chastises the incumbent Public Protector for linking him to the project.

Magashule, on the other hand, argues that he was not aware of the project despite his position as Free State Premier at the time. On Monday 21 December, the Public Protector released a group of much-anticipated reports, which included Vrede dairy findings.

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“His continuous denial of having no direct responsibility and knowledge, as the political head of the Free State Province, of the Vrede Dairy Project, is alarming,” Busisiwe Mkhwebane stated.

In the report, Magashule questions why Mkhwebane wants to impose a duty on him to report corruption within his government when he did not have the power or “the statutory duty” to do so.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) in the Free State – who first reported the dairy farm to the Public Protector – have welcomed the report, lauding how different it is to the first report which was challenged in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria and then set aside in May 2019 for being unconstitutional and invalid. The DA led by Roy Jankielsohn said that Magashule’s denial characterises the years the ANC Secretary-General lead the province with impunity.

“The report substantiates the initial concerns of the DA regarding the roles of politicians in the project and their complicity in maladministration and improper conduct. In this regard the names of former Premier Ace Magashule, former MEC’s Zwane and Rockman and current MEC Qabathe are mentioned as the main perpetrators of the improper appropriation of funds to the Gupta-linked Estina company,” said The Democratic Alliance Free State Leader, Roy Jankielsohn.

Included in the remedial action is the important instruction that the Head of the Investigative Directorate of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) must consider the report with their current criminal investigation. Most recently the NPA revealed it was having a hard time obtaining crucial documentation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to further their case on the Vrede project.

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Recently the Director of Shadow World Investigations, Paul Holden, testified before Deputy Justice Raymond Zondo, that the Guptas used the dairy project to launder an estimated R880 million from the Free State Provincial government. This amount is three times more than the over R283 million that was initially invested in the Vrede based project back in 2012/13 when it was still managed by Estina.

Holden revealed that this initial investment into the project was moved around several times via the bank accounts of offshore Gupta-linked companies, later ballooning to R880 million. Holden says this complex process is call “round-tripping”. Holden’s testimony elicited reactions of shock from the public, and from Zondo himself.

Estina – which had no background in agriculture – was selected as India-based dairy company Paras’ partner on the project via a Memorandum of Agreement (MOU). Since the FDC took the project over in late 2014, R20 million per annum continues to be pumped into the project. The beneficiaries are yet to see a cent of the money.

In 2018 eight people were arrested for their involvement in the irregular project. They included: former Free State Agriculture head, Peter Thabethe; General Manager for District Services at the Free State Agriculture Department, Takisi Masiteng; former Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the Free State Agriculture Department Sylvia Dlamini; Estina Director, Kamal Vasram; as well as other key Gupta affiliates, Ronica Raghavan; Nazeem Howa;  Ashu Chawla; and Varun Gupta. They each maintained their innocence until the NPA withdrew the charges against them in early December 2018. Aside from the re-arrest of Thabethe and Dlamini in 2020 for a separate matter, the others remain off the hook and are free. The criminal investigation into the project appears to have stalled.

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