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Judge in Gupta-linked Nulane case warns defence, prosecutor to 'maintain some decorum' in court

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Judge in Gupta-linked Nulane case warns defence, prosecutor to 'maintain some decorum' in court

2nd February 2023

By: News24Wire

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The lawyer representing Dinesh Patel, an accused in the Gupta-linked Nulane Investments case, said he would be demonstrating a "wholly irregular process" by police officers in relation to a search-and-seizure operation at the offices of one of the State's witnesses.

On Wednesday, the Bloemfontein High Court heard testimony from the Free State head of agriculture, Takisi Masiteng, who was appointed in that position in 2020.

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The State alleges that the department paid R24.9-million to Nulane, a company owned and controlled by former Transnet Board member and Gupta ally Iqbal Sharma, for a fraudulent feasibility study for the Free State's flagship Mohoma Mobung project - the genesis of the alleged Vrede dairy project scam - between 2011 and 2012.

Despite the fact that Nulane had no staff, State witness Shadrack Cezula successfully motivated a deviation from procurement rules to appoint it to perform the feasibility study.

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Nulane then subcontracted Deloitte to do that work at the cost of R1.5-million.

During Masiteng's cross-examination, he was quizzed by Patel's lawyer, advocate Kenny Oldwadge, about a search-and-seizure operation of his offices on 18 March 2020. 

This led to an angry exchange between Oldwadge and prosecutor Peter Serunye, with acting judge Nompumelelo Gusha eventually intervening to warn the two lawyers to "maintain some decorum". 

Masiteng, who is also accused in the fraud, theft and money laundering case relating to the Estina dairy farm project, could not recall exactly when the search and seizure took place in 2020.

"Do you not have a diary to record such a significant occasion? It is significant, sir. Your offices are the subject of a search and seizure by police who are investigating a serious crime... [and] you didn’t record it?" asked Oldwadge.

Masiteng said he did not record the dates in a diary, but on a document that was given to him.

According to Oldwadge, officers who conducted the search-and-seizure operation deposed an affidavit asking a magistrate to issue the warrant to be served on Masiteng without disclosing to that magistrate that Masiteng was already a suspect in the Estina dairy farm project case.

Oldwadge said the Estina docket was opened in 2017 – and three years later, officers found it "appropriate" to use the same case number to investigate a case that did not yet have a docket opened.

He said this goes to the heart of what he would later "demonstrate as a wholly irregular process" by police officers.

Oldwadge also said Masiteng was basically compelled to submit to a search-and-seizure operation in a matter in which he was a suspect.

Responding, Masiteng said he wouldn't know about the case number but said he was obliged to comply.

During that cross-examination, Serunye tried to object and give details about the search warrant and the officers who had conducted it.

Still, Oldwadge took issue with this, saying what Serunye was doing was "ludicrous", which is when Gusha intervened.

The acting judge warned the two lawyers:

Gentlemen! Gentlemen! As much as we have a right to object, can we please try to maintain some decorum and try to maintain some restraint.

Oldwadge asked to address the court in Masiteng's absence.

Masiteng was asked to step outside the courtroom, and Oldwadge complained to the court that Serunye was trying to tell Masiteng "what exactly he wants him to say". 

Oldwadge is expected to continue cross-examining Masiteng on Thursday morning. 

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