AFRICAN MIRROR REPORTER
IQBAL Sharma, the businessman with strong ties to the Gupta family was today denied bail and will remain in custody until his next appearance.
Magistrate Estelle de Lange ruled that it was in the interest of justice that Sharma, who is facing charges of fraud and money laundering, should remain in jail.
De Lange said if convicted, Sharma, a first time offender, faced a 15 year jail sentence for one of the charges he faces.
Ahead of the Magistrate’s verdict, State prosecutor Peter Serunya argued that Sharma would not stand trial if released on bail.
Serunya argued that Sharma is a flight risk.
He said Sharma had failed to disclose to the court an account with R264-million in a bank account in Dubai, which he argued was enough to last him a lifetime. The account is in the name of Issa Global, a company owned by Sharma.
“He has misled you. He has hidden his assets from you. He didn’t tell you about the R264-million which he is hiding. He won’t worry about the R25-million house which has been seized because what he has in the outside countries can last him a lifetime,” he said.
He listed 28 countries in Africa, Asia, US and Europe that Sharma has frequented. “He has made a lot of connections with many countries. If he skips bail, where will we find him,” he argued.
Serunya said the case against Sharma is not dependent on the extradition of the Gupta brothers and their wives. “The trial will start with or without them,” he said. “And the starting of this case and their finalisation does not depend on their presence.”
He said Sharma did not know that the day would come when he would be arrested, charged and be in the dock. “That is the reason why even when evidence was produced in the commission he never felt the need to flee the country,” he said, in remarks designed to rebut Sharma’s argument, through his lawyer,that he knew about the investigations and the allegations but did not abscond.
In his argument for bail to be granted, Sharma’s lawyer Coetzee argued that the extradition of other accused in the matter – the Gupta brothers and their wives – could take long and Sharma should not be expected to remain in custody for that period.
Coetzee said being in prison would also have a negative impact on Sharma’s right to a fair trial. He said that he would not have access to documents to prepare for his trial.
Sharma, charged with fraud and money laundering along with 16 others, including senior civil servants.
Sharma’s company – Nulane – is accused of receiving R25-million for a feasibility study on the Estina Dairy Farm project. The company is accused of paying DeLoitte R1.5-million to do the job and then laundering the rest to Gupta owned companies in Dubai.
Sharma’s bail application was separated from that of Peter Thabethe, the former head of the Free State agriculture department, who was freed on bail of R10 000. Thabethe joins Limakatso Moorosi, also a former head of the agriculture department and Seipati Dlamini, a former chief financial officer, who are both out on bail of R10 000.
The bail decision comes days after the NPA was granted a temporary order to seize the assets of Sharma as well as those of Atul, Rajesh Gupta and their wives.
Assets seized – worth over R520-million – include multi-million rand mansion in Saxonworld, Morningside in Johannesburg and a house in Constantia, Cape Town.
The court has appointed a curator to manage and preserve the assets, pending the outcome of the criminal case against Sharma, the Gupta brothers and their wives as well as 15 others.
The NPA has also issued a red alert and asked Interpol to help bring the Guptas, who are living in Dubai, to face justice in South Africa.