Tue, 25 Jan 2022

New Delhi [India], January 12 (ANI): With reports suggesting that fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari has sought asylum in the United Kingdom, Indian agencies in coordination with the Ministry of External Affairs are engaged in preparation for his extradition hearing scheduled next month.

A joint team of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is engaged in preparing documents with foolproof evidence that could help both the agencies to put forth their case during Bhandari's extradition hearing pending in the UK next month, an official source told ANI requesting anonymity.

Both the agencies have engaged Joint Director level officers who in coordination with the investigating officers have expedited the process to gather documents linked to the case, said the source.

Bhandari, who is wanted in India for violating the Official Secrets Act, is currently seeking asylum in the UK.

India has moved to the UK for his extradition for money laundering and tax evasion cases against him. A hearing in the case is due in London next month. Bhandari is currently on conditional bail in the UK awaiting the outcome of his extradition case.

"Extradition of Sanjay Bhandari is necessary to investigate his links to 'kickbacks' amounting to several hundreds of crores during the UPA tenure as his bank transaction details have suggested that he had received money for his involvement in multiple defence deals in 2011," another official linked to the probe told ANI.

"A watertight case is being prepared and documents regarding that are being gathered to present it before a designated court in the UK when it will be hearing Bhandari's matter linked to his extradition to India."The former defence consultant recently sued French firm Thales, contending that he is owed "commissions" worth Rs 90 crore in connection with a defence deal. Thales incidentally supplies the avionics equipment for Dassault's Rafale aircraft.

The contract under contention is a EUR2.4 billion contract signed in 2011 by the then United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Manmohan Singh to upgrade Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage 2000 planes.

According to the report in the UK-based newspaper The Telegraph, the French company is "facing allegations that it used a secret and illicit system of paying middlemen to secure lucrative international contracts."The Telegraph stated that Bhandari claimed he "helped" Thales to "sell the upgrade of the Mirage jets by facilitating a meeting" with a top defence ministry official, citing court documents. He also claimed that he was entitled to a EUR20 million (167 crores) consulting fee but only received EUR9 million (75 crores).

The fugitive arms lobbyist alleged that this was due to political factors in 2016 because he was close to the Congress Party.

Bhandari has described himself in the lawsuit as a "well-known commercial intermediary involved in arms and defence in India", who has "worked with major international defence companies to assist them in negotiating arms contracts with the Indian Ministry of Defence". The lawsuit is ongoing and a judgment is expected later this year.

Bhandari, considered close to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's brother-in-law Robert Vadra, had fled India in 2016 following raids at his residence for allegedly possessing classified information on the country's defence purchases. He was later charged under the Official Secrets Act.

Bhandari had purportedly received a kickback of Rs 328 crore in connection with the Pilatus Aircraft deal. He has also been linked to several other business agreements, including the ONGC deal.

Between 2010 and 2012, more than Rs 3.47 crore had been transferred by Thales International, the Middle East into a bank account that is believed to belong to the fugitive defence middleman in conjunction with another defence deal relating to aviation products. The company named in the accessed documents is Offset India Solutions - of which Bhandari is a director.

The Enforcement Directorate had conducted raids on HL Pahwa in May 2017 which linked a land deal connection with the Gandhi family and HL Pahwa who was funded by one CC Thampi, who has close financial links to Sanjay Bhandari.

From files seized by the ED during raids at HL Pahwa office the link was established and it needed further probe.

In August 2020, ED had raided 14 locations related to Bhandari in connection to the Pilatus aircraft scam.

Bhandari is also under the scanner of the CBI as well for allegedly purchasing Benami properties for Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

CBI's inquiry had found that Bhandari's company had received the kickback amount through his Singapore-based bank account in 2009. From there the money was laundered to Bhandari's company in Dubai and then, it was allegedly used to purchase properties in London. It is notable here that the ED has already stated in open court that Bhandari was acting on behalf of Robert Vadra for the purchase of properties in London. (ANI)

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