JOHANNESBURG: A South African court has ruled that an asset seizure order against the controversial India-born Gupta family linked to ex-president Jacob Zuma be lifted as there were "no reasonable grounds" to freeze the assets worth nearly USD 20 million, according to media reports.
The assets worth at least South African Rand 250 million (USD 19.8 million), belonging to the Guptas and their associates and allegedly bought with looted state funds, were seized in a multi-million-dollar fraud and money-laundering investigation in April.
The Asset Forfeiture Unit (AFU) had obtained a provisional restraint order in relation to the Estina dairy farm scandal.
Judge Philip Jacobus Loubser of the High Court in Bloemfontein ruled yesterday that there were "no reasonable grounds" to believe that those implicated in the dairy farm matter would be convicted and so there were no grounds to freeze the assets, South African national daily Business Day reported.
"Those implicated in the case and affected by the restraint order approached the court in a bid to have it overturned," it said.
The full-blown judicial inquiry into state capture may kick off in August but Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo has indicated that it could take up to two years to conclude its work, the report said.
The embattled Gupta family own a range of business interests in South Africa, including computing, mining, air travel, energy, technology and media.
The three brothers, Atul, Rajesh and Ajay moved to South Africa in 1993 from Uttar Pradesh just as white-minority rule was ending.
They are reportedly known friends of former President Zuma and his son, daughter and one of the president's wives worked for the family's firms.
The Gupta brothers have been accused of wielding enormous political influence in South Africa, with critics alleging that they have tried to "capture the state" to advance their own business interests.
Zuma, 76, was forced to resign three months ago as criticism grew from within his party over multiple corruption scandals.
Yesterday's court victory was the second for the family after the same court in March overturned the freezing of 10 million Rand (USD 791,000) in Atul Gupta's personal bank account.
The court also reduced a preservation order of 220 million Rand in relation to the Estina dairy farm project to 40 million Rand.
Assets that have now been released include the Guptas' elusive Bombardier jet, which landed at Lanseria airport in Johannesburg in April, after Export Development Canada, the Canadian bank that financed it, went to court to have it grounded.
There were also dozens of luxury vehicles including several Mercedes-Benzes and Land Rovers, a Porsche Cayenne and a Lamborghini Gallardo and the bank accounts of Gupta-linked companies and houses, businesses and farms across the country.
These fixed properties included the Gupta homes in Saxonwold, which were raided in Johannesburg in connection with the Vrede farm investigation in February, as well as houses in Roggebaai and Constantia in Cape Town and Umhlanga in Durban.