Rafale controversy: While UPA buried probe against Sanjay Bhandari, NDA did not act on evidence
Investigators gathered significant evidence during the 17-month long investigation to establish Bhandari’s connection with several foreign defence companies, politicians and even a certain powerful bureaucrat in the UPA's finance ministry.
New Delhi: A probe against arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, now linked to the ongoing Rafale controversy, was quietly buried by UPA-II government in 2013. However, the NDA government is equally guilty for sitting on overwhelming evidence and he fled to London right under the nose of security establishment in late 2016. According to the documents accessed by Firstpost, a sustained probe against Bhandari began immediately after the Aero India show held in Bengaluru from 6 to 10 February, 2013.
Before this move, a preliminary inquiry was launched by the Manmohan Singh government on 12 January, 2013 into Bhandari's shady deals. Three companies owned by Bhandari — Offset India Solutions Private Limited, Micromet ATI and AVAANA Software and Services Private Limited — came under the scanner of the Central investigative agencies for allegedly receiving kickbacks in various defence deals including Dassault, the makers of the Rafale combat aircraft.
The probe was dropped just before the NDA government came to power in May 2014. The investigation was renewed later that year by the Narendra Modi government, culminating in an income tax raid in April 2016. Despite collecting a huge cache of documents indicting Bhandari, action was delayed. Finally, in October 2016, Bhandari was charged under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) and two months later, he fled to London via Nepal. The ruling BJP has now woken up to Bhandari's links with the Rafale manufacturer, but the agencies knew about his penetration in French defence companies since the initial investigation began in January 2013.
A secret note of 2013 said: "Dassault Mirage upgrade programme worth thousands of crores, have emerged through these group companies (owned by Bhandari). Commissions have been paid through international companies like Dassault, MBDA and Thales; all French companies under the garb of consultancy to Bhandari’s firms. Under offset contracts, large amount of commission have been paid via fictitious billing."
Bhandari was also running six other companies from the same office at Panchsheel Park in New Delhi, while a firm, OIS Europe Limited, linked to his relative in London was dissolved just after the income tax search and seizures at Bhandari’s residence and office premises. The note also observed that despite the ban on defence agents, middlemen continue to influence a majority of defence contracts and that the Income Tax Department must look into the key Indian Air Force procurement for evasion of tax by agents using various consultancy firms.
"Foreign defence companies do not shy away from seeking their services. All defence agents, operating under the garb of consultant, keep a battery of retired service officers, retired defence public sector undertakings officials and even bureaucrats with links in the establishment on their pay roll," it read.
The investigators had suspected that Bhandari was also working for another French multinational, operating in the aerospace, defence and security sector. They had gathered significant evidence during the 17-month long investigation beginning 2013 to establish Bhandari’s connection with several foreign defence companies, politicians and even a certain powerful bureaucrat in the UPA's finance ministry. Surprisingly, no action was taken either by UPA or the NDA government.
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