We have reported earlier on the links between shady arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and brother-in-law of Rahul Gandhi, Robert Vadra. We had mentioned that Dassault had refused to partner with Bhandari’s Offset India Solutions (OIS) due to his proximity to Robert Vadra and that classified documents were found in his possession and was charged under the Official Secrets Act.
As per reports, Bhandari was often sighted with Vadra at arms expos in Dubai and elsewhere. They were often seen together at a luxury hotel in Delhi as well. We may never know the extent to which his proximity to the Congress party helped shape his fortune but there is a certain other political party, that definitely had a profound impact on Bhandari’s fate.
For a long time, Bhandari was not under the radar of Indian authorities. But his luck ran out when Deepak Agarwal, a hawala operator, was being scrutinized in an entirely separate case involving funding to the Aam Aadmi Party. It was discovered that Rs. 69 crore to seven of Bhandari’s companies came from the same hawala operator. It was only then that his phones were tapped and the raids conducted. The raids, as people are well aware, opened the pandora’s box.
The hawala connection runs much deeper. Republic TV had reported in June 2017 that Deepak Agarwal was working very closely with another hawala operator, Mukesh Kumar, to provide accommodation entries to numerous entities, including the Congress party and the AAP. It is reported that Delhi Chief Minister had even tweeted about receiving Rs. 2 crores from Mukesh Kumar. Mentioned in the same report, a notice was sent by the I-T Department to the Congress on May 24, 2017, regarding the dubious transactions.
Kapil Mishra, the rebel AAP leader, levelled serious allegations against Kejriwal and his party. “A man who cannot repay a loan contributed Rs 2 crore to the AAP. Mukesh was compelled to talk in favour of the AAP, otherwise his firm would have been shut down by the government, which had issued him a notice in 2013 for non-payment of value-added tax,” Mishra had said after Mukesh Kumar reportedly told NDTV that he had made a contribution of Rs. 2 crores to the party.
Coming back to Bhandari, the source of funds for a plush property in London which was bought in 2009 is currently under investigation. It was allegedly bought by Vadra and it was Bhandari who funded it. Bhandari was also red flagged by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence and a probe was initiated against him by the CBI for allegedly being the kingpin of a scandal where he was importing cars by avoiding customs duty. It is also interesting to note that he had set up the OIS with a paid-up capital of just Rs. 1 lakh.
Investigators are believed to be perplexed at how brazenly Bhandari received the documents from the defence ministry. An MHA report states, “According to another input, one Nafe Singh levelled serious allegations against S. Bhandari, in which he blamed Sanjay for stealing the file in respect of the purchase of 126 fighter planes and the file went missing from the ministry and was later recovered on the road. S. Bhandari had been blamed to have his links with F-16 and F-18 contenders and was made responsible for the leak of photocopies of the file to the above mentioned American contenders.”
In another shocker, OIS is reported to have received payments of 2,50,000 Swiss francs and 7,50,000 Swiss francs from Pilatus Flugzeugwerke AG merely two years before the IAF bought 75 Pilatus basic trainer aircraft from the Swiss. The Pilatus deal is itself mired in controversy. The Finance Wing of the Ministry of Defense said in 2015 that the costs of certain components were not calculated before declaring Pilatus the lowest bidder. It was an issue that was raised by the Koreans who had emerged as the closest competitor to Pilatus. The Defense Minister of South Korea personally contacted A.K. Antony, his Indian counterpart in 2011 asserting that Pilatus had submitted an incomplete bid and therefore must be rejected. Bhandari himself is under investigation for alleged malpractices in the selection of the Swiss aircraft.
It appears bewildering now but Bhandari may never have faced the heat and his links with Vadra may never have turned into a political slugfest if Deepak Agarwal wasn’t investigated by Indian authorities in a case related to the Aam Aadmi Party. Luck often runs out at the most unexpected of times.