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Guptas abandon Sahara Computers

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The Guptas abandoned Sahara Computers and are looking to sell the premises for R50 million.
The Guptas abandoned Sahara Computers and are looking to sell the premises for R50 million.

As the net closes in on the controversial Gupta family, one of its key companies, Sahara Computers, has reportedly closed down.

According to a News24 report, the Guptas have abandoned Sahara and are looking to sell the premises for R50 million. It notes that three former Sahara employees and a security guard were the only people at the office building when the publication visited.

Sahara's flagship products included desktop computers, notebooks, netbooks, digital cameras, storage devices and other lifestyle products.

At its prime, Sahara Computers was the Guptas' biggest asset in SA's ICT sector. However, problems started at the company when the Gupta family was embroiled in corruption and state capture allegations.

The alleged close ties between the Guptas and former president Jacob Zuma drew widespread criticism, with accusations the family used its "proximity" to the president to "offer" Cabinet positions. Allegations of dodgy dealings were also reported, with Sahara hogging the limelight.

Sahara started laying off staff after an impasse with SA's top banks emanating from the Gupta family's close connections to Zuma.

Sahara parent Oakbay Investments, which is not listed, in 2016 released what it dubbed "maiden results" reporting R1.1 billion in revenue, emphasising the majority of its dealings were not government-related. According to Oakbay, Sahara was the second highest contributor to the group.

The following year, Sahara's name popped up in the #GuptaLeaks scandal, with allegations of a complex multibillion-rand tax-avoidance scheme with family patriarch Atul Gupta at its centre.

The Daily Maverick's investigative unit Scorpio and amaBhungane, an independent investigative unit, revealed they had access to between 100 000 and 200 000 e-mails and documents belonging to the Gupta family, which they branded the #GuptaLeaks.

Established in 1994, Sahara was an independent IT distributor in Southern Africa. On its Web site, the company says it has over 6 000 channel partners. The Guptas says they started Sahara Computers with R1.2 million after spotting a gap in the market created by established tech giants that were selling at huge mark-ups.

The Gupta business empire is crumbling, with the Hawks pursuing the controversial family. The Hawks recently raided the Gupta family compound in Johannesburg and made some arrests.

Eight people appeared in the Bloemfontein Magistrates Court on Thursday last week after being arrested by the Hawks as part of the ongoing investigation into state capture. They were charged with fraud and money laundering, as well as a number of other charges related to financial crime.

The Hawks say they consider Ajay Gupta a fugitive from justice, because he failed to hand himself over to the authorities in order to appear in court on Thursday.

Ashu Chawla, CEO of Sahara Computers, is among the people who appeared in court. EWN reports that Chawla, one of the Guptas' top lieutenants, says he is confident he will be acquitted on charges related to the Estina Dairy Farm scandal.

It notes that Chawla says in an affidavit that he denies he participated in the offenses as charged, adding he believes the state has a weak case against him.

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