Robert Vadra, who stands accused of using laundered money to purchase
£12 million worth of real estate in Britain, was questioned by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for over 14 hours over Wednesday and Thursday. On Saturday, he appeared before the ED once again. It is rumoured that he shall be summoned on Monday as well.
Investigators are focusing on his links with controversial defence dealer Sanjay Bhandari, sources said.
Calling this sudden revival of the ED’s interest in the case a move aimed at serving the BJP’s political interests, Congress has radically changed its strategy of dealing with the corruption charges against Vadra.
When asked about Vadra being questioned, Congress chief and Vadra’s brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi told News18, “I don’t have a problem. Let them investigate Vadra or Chidambaram. But they should investigate Rafale as well.”
No longer playing defensive, Vadra’s wife and the party’s newly appointed general secretary for UP (East), Priyanka Gandhi, was also seen accompanying him to the ED office in Jamnagar House in central Delhi earlier this week, making her first public appearance as a politician.
Political vendetta, claims Congress
Ever since, and even before coming to power, the Narendra Modi government has cast relentless aspersions against the Gandhi family for protecting the “son-in-law,” although this is the first time the authorities have called him in for questioning. It is also the first time the Congress has made a show of solidarity for the beleaguered businessmen instead of skirting the issue, and further questioned the curious timing of Vadra’s interrogation in the build-up to the Lok Sabha polls.
The ED claims to have come across new evidence with regard to the purchase of illegal foreign assets in Britain, which forms the crux of the case against Vadra. These properties were allegedly bought with kickbacks from two deals sanctioned by the erstwhile UPA government, at Vadra’s behest, by absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari.
The first deal struck in 2005 is related to
The ED has charged Vadra with money laundering, executed by hi purchase of a mansion in the British capital at 12, Bryanston Square, for £1.9 million in 2009. This property is the focus of the ongoing interrogation. Bought by Bhandari’s firm Vortex and sold to Dubai-based businessman CC Thampi in 2010, the property found its way back to Bhandari shortly after.
Thampi who is also being investigated by the agency for foreign exchange violations, is suspected to have sold the property to a UK-based company linked to Bhandari for the same price despite spending £65,000 on renovations.
The investigators then concluded that the entire exercise had been aimed at re-routing the money back to its source and “round-tripping illegal wealth.”
The ED further suspects that Vadra owns eight other properties in Britain and UAE, besides the Bryanston mansion, valued at over Rs 110 crore together and bought between 2005 and 2010. According to Business Today, a total six flats were bought by Vadra’s associates through a web of companies owned by Bhandari and Thampi.
The complicit companies include Vortex, allegedly owned by Bhandari, and Skylight, a Sharjah-based company controlled by Thampi, who has links to Vadra.
The very first suspicions in the case were raised in an Intelligence Bureau (IB) report on Bhandari’s firm, Offset India Solutions, which has become a multi-crore business group, within years of being set up on a paid-up capital of Rs 1 lakh.
Another company named Syntak is also under ED’s radar, believed to have acted as a front for when Thampi sold the mansion back to Bhandari.
Ongoing interrogation and evidence
The agency has reportedly questioned Vadra about these properties over their intense two-day questioning this week, but Vadra denied the allegations. He was also shown emails linking him to Bhandari and his associates, a crucial piece of evidence, during his interrogation on Wednesday.
Investigators stumbled upon an email exchange between them about the renovation of the Bryanston Square
In one of the e-mail exchanges between Vadra and Sumit Chadha, the London-based relative of Sanjay Bhandari, the latter had asked for reimbursement for the renovations made at the mansion. Vadra allegedly responded to the email saying, “Will look into it in the morning and let Manoj (Vadra’s secretary) sort it out.”
It began when the BJP government after coming to power in 2014 directed the IB to investigate Bhandari’s business ventures, which first revealed the ties with controversial Swiss firm Pilatus and Vadra.
In 2016, Bhandari reportedly admitted to exchanging emails with Vadra and his secretary, Manoj Arora, following which he fled India. The ED conducted more raids in the case and interrogated Arora last December.
The agency subsequently filed a PMLA case against Arora after his role cropped up during the probe of another case by the Income Tax Department under the 2015 anti-black money legislation against Bhandari. Arora has alleged that he is being forced to name Vadra.
The ED is
Other cases against Vadra
In September last year, Vadra and Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda were charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act and multiple sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) for a suspect land deal. Skylight Hospitality owned by Vadra allegedly bought land in Sector 83 of Gurgaon and sold them to DLF at much higher rates than the prevailing market rates.
In 2015, the Haryana government set up the Justice SN Dhingra Commission to investigate granting of licences for the development of Gurgaon’s Sector 83. On January 10, the Punjab and Haryana High Court told the state government not to publish the report for now.
Skylight Hospitality in Bikaner, Rajasthan, bought land at dirt cheap
Why you should care
The Gandhi family’s complicity in Vadra’s gamut of financial crimes, subject to proof
By shifting the national focus from Rafale and the latest developments on that front to the years-old Vadra investigation, the BJP is keen on keeping the opposition under pressure, while aiming for another bird with the same stone. The latest Gandhi to officially enter Indian politics could prove to be a major bonus for Congress in a deeply divided Uttar Pradesh. So this entire exercise may just be the means to tarnish her image by somehow convicting Vadra before the elections.
Prarthana Mitra is a staff writer at Qrius.