According to a report published in the United Kingdom on Monday, fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, whom OpIndia exposed of having links with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, has sued French business Thales for Rs 92 crore in ‘commissions’. Bhandari has claimed the company owed the ‘commission’ to him in connection with a defence transaction signed in India a decade ago, during the UPA regime.
Bhandari, who is wanted in India for violating the Official Secrets Act, is currently seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
The contract under contention is a €2.4 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 €20 million(167 crores) consulting fee but only received €9 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.
He added that the ruling BJP party began persecuting him after coming to power. He escaped to the United Kingdom, where he is fighting extradition on ‘unrelated charges’ and claiming political asylum, according to the British publication.
According to the report, 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 case is still in progress, and a decision is likely later this year.
“Thales firmly denies the claims by Mr Sanjay Bhandari regarding the sums allegedly due or any other payments to him by Thales SA. Thales has never signed a contract with Mr Bhandari or his companies in connection with this project,” a report by The Print quoted the French company as saying.
“Thales complies with the law and applies a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and influence peddling. The group’s integrity programme is regularly evaluated and amended to reflect changes in applicable legislation and best practices,” it added.
OpIndia expose on Sanjay Bhandari Rahul Gandhi nexus
Sanjay Bhandari is a close friend of Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra and an arms dealer. From 2012 to 2015, Sanjay Bhandari was lobbying to become the offset partner in the Rafale deal and Dassault had refused to indulge him. In fact, a file related to the purchase of 126 Rafale jets had gone missing from the defence ministry and it was later found on the road. It is alleged that Bhandari had stolen the file. It is alleged that Bhandari used to photocopy crucial files and passed them on to defence contractors that he had links with.
Until now, the link had only been established between Robert Vadra and Sanjay Bhandari. However, in March 2019, OpIndia had exclusively accessed information that linked Rahul Gandhi to Sanjay Bhandari, through some dubious land deals, thickening the cloud of questions.
OpIndia published an article about Rahul Gandhi’s suspected ties with arms lobbyist Sanjay Bhandari in 2019. We accessed papers related to the ED search conducted on one HL Pahwa on 3rd May 2017 and 4th May 2017, which proved that there was a land deal between the Gandhi scion and HL Pahwa who was funded by one CC Thampi, who has close financial links to Sanjay Bhandari.
Rahul Gandhi’s land deal with HL Pahwa
According to the files seized by the Enforcement Directorate from HL Pahwa, Rahul Gandhi had purchased 6.5 acres of land located at Hassanpur, Palwal vide registration deed 4780 dated 3rd March 2008 from HL Pahwa for a measly Rs. 26,47,000. The land was purchased by making a cheque payment of Rs. 24,00,000 dated 12th January 2008 and Rs. 2,47,000 dated 17th March 2008.
But, File C page 57 of the seized ED files reveals that the stamp duty on this transaction was paid in cash and was not withdrawn by Pahwa. It thus becomes obvious that it was the buyer, in this case, Rahul Gandhi who paid the stamp duty.
Another revelation in the file (Page 60 of File C) is that Pahwa wanted to sell the land at Rs. 33,22,003 but agreed to sell only at Rs. 26,47,000 to Rahul Gandhi.
After the startling revelation, the Congress party had admitted to the dubious land deal, however, remained tight-lipped about Rahul Gandhi’s alleged ties with HL Pahwa, who, in turn, is connected to Sanjay Bhandari.
Bhandari remains elusive. In August 2020, ED had raided 14 locations related to Bhandari in connection to the Pilatus aircraft scam. He is 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 in 2009, Sanjay Bhandari’s company had received the kickback amount through his Singapore based bank account. 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 Enforcement Directorate has already stated in open court that Sanjay Bhandari was acting on behalf of Robert Vadra for the purchase of properties in London.