Pilatus aircraft deal: CBI has fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, bureaucrats in its crosshairs

New Delhi: A few days after the conclusion of Aero India Show at Bengaluru from 6 to 10 February in 2013, a six-page intelligence note landed at the desk of then chairman, Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) detailing unusual activities of certain companies owned by fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. The note purportedly provided the first solid evidence against Bhandari, who at that point of time, was allegedly using four firms registered in India to influence a majority of defence contracts.

 Pilatus aircraft deal: CBI has fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, bureaucrats in its crosshairs

File image of arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. CNN-News18

Bhandari allegedly had a battery of retired defence public sector undertakings officials on his payroll. Firstpost on 9 April reported that two senior officers of Bharat Electronic Limited (BEL) who joined Bhandari's firm after retirement, were under the scanner of investigating agencies in the basic trainer aircraft deal. The note highlighted crores spent at the Aero India Show by Bhandari's firm AVAANA and warned about his links into procurement of 75 basic trainer aircraft for which India inked a Rs 2,859 crore deal in May 2012 with Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircrafts.

A year later, the Income Tax Department launched a probe and almost three years after the first warning against Bhandari, a preliminary inquiry was launched by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) which culminated in an FIR against the arms dealer, his firms, close aides and the Swiss company.

The CBI tracked down the alleged kickbacks paid to Bhandari's firms under the garb of consultancy fees. The CBI said after Request for Proposal (RFP) was floated by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in December 2009, Pilatus Aircrafts, Switzerland, dishonestly and fraudulently signed a service provide agreement with Bhandari's firm Offset India Solutions Private Limited. This pact between the two firms in a bid to obtain the contract for supply of 75 basic trainer aircrafts to the IAF, was in violation of the defence procurement procedure, the agency stated.

"In furtherance of the said criminal conspiracy, Pilatus Aircrafts Limited made payment of 10,00,000 Swiss Franc (in 2010, 1 Swiss Franc was equal to approximately Rs 47) in account No. 52105058250 of M/S Offset India Solution Private Limited with Standard Chartered Bank, New Delhi in two tranches during August & October 2010 and also transferred huge funds, i.e. 49887900 Swiss Franc (Approximately Rs. 350 Crores) during 2011 to 2011 in the bank accounts of Dubai based company namely M/S Offset India Solutions FZC belonging to Sanjay Bhandari to obtain the contract for 75 basic trainer aircrafts. It is revealed that M/S Pilatus Aircrafts Limited dishonestly and fraudulently signed a pre contract integrity pact on 12.11.2010 with Ministry of Defence, deliberately concealing the facts about signing the aforesaid service provider agreement with Sanjay Bhandari," the CBI said.

The investigating agency claimed Pilatus Aircrafts concealed the first payment of 10,00,000 Swiss Francs made to Offset India Solutions Private Limited and subsequent payments made to Bhandari in Dubai. The agency suspects the money paid to Bhandari was to influence the public servants of IAF and Ministry of Defence associated with the procurement process. After the deal was signed between Pilatus and Ministry of Defence in May 2012, a huge cash amount was moved by Bhandari from one company to another and even in the account of his wife in order to layer the transactions.

CBI said: “Offset India Solutions Private Limited and other Indian companies of Sanjay Bhandari namely OIS Advanced Technology Private Limited , AVAANA Software & Services Private Limited, SB Hospitality & Services Private Limited, Himalayan Helicorp Private Limited, Santech Investment Private Limited, Micromet ATI India Private Limited and Sonia Bhandari wife of Sanjay Bhandari, received Rs 25.5 crore during June 2012-March 2015 in lieu of cash provided by Sanjay Bhandari from various companies of Deepak Aggarwal, namley, Arti Securities & Services Limited, Hare Krishna Garments Private Limited, I-Tech Insurance Brockers Private Limited, Mysore Finlease Limited, Sperryn Gas Products Limited, Jaguar Equity Limited and Tyagi Portfolio Limited.”

In a bid to further channelise the alleged kickbacks in legitimate financial deals, Bhandari acquired five companies from Himanshu Verma, who has also been named in the FIR. These companies are: Greenpower Marketing and Advertising Private Limited, Bhayana Housing Private Limited (now VRG Housing Private Limited), Bhayana Reality Private Limited (now Stercon Private Limited), Beats Events & Advertising Private Limited and Efficacy Interiors Private Limited. Bhandari subsequently deposited Rs 39.36 crore in the accounts of these five companies with the help of Deepak Aggarwal. Of Rs 39.36 crore, Rs. 5.4 crore was transferred to a company called Saran Savdha LLP owned by Bimal Sareen. Sareen, who has been named in the CBI FIR, is also a director in Bhandari's firm Offset India Solutions Private Limited.

“There is strong suspicion that the aforementioned cash amount was part of the commission amount paid by the Pilatus Aircrafts to Sanjay Bhandari to obtain the contract from IAF, Ministry of Defence for supply of 75 basic trainer aircraft,” the central investigating agency claimed.

Now, returning to the genesis of probe against Bhandari and Pilatus basic trainer aircraft, the six-page note indicated that the arms dealer's involvement may not be limited to allegedly swinging the basic trainer aircraft deal in favour of the Swiss company, but may also extend to  other deals. It said: “Crores have been spent in these three-day sojourn, specifically companies like AVAANA (owned by Sanjay Bhandari) which is engaged in mission critical system systems and software solutions, development and integration. Its portfolio includes UAVs and asset tracking solutions.” The note also named Bhandari’s Offset India Solutions Private Limited, Micromet-ATI and AVAANA, further adding that under the garb of offset contracts, large amount of commission have been paid via fictitious billing.

Bhandari fled the country in December 2016 and Indian law enforcement agencies believe he is hiding in London. His extradition to India may not only unravel possible links with the then establishment, but also other unholy defence deals he might have orchestrated in connivance with bureaucrats at the helm.

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Updated Date: Jun 22, 2019 16:10:17 IST