Millennium Post

Swiss firm paid `363 cr bribe for aircraft deal in UPA2: CBI

New Delhi: With trouble mounting for arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and his associates, the CBI has registered a case with respect to kickbacks of approximately Rs 363 crore allegedly received to seal an aviation deal between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Swiss Pilatus Aircraft, which had agreed to supply 75 basic trainer aircraft to India at over Rs 2,800 crore in 2012, during the UPA-2 regime.

Booking several unnamed officials of the Defence Ministry and the Indian Air Force, in addition to Bhandari and other alleged middlemen, CBI sleuths late on Friday night raided nine places related to Bhandari and his alleged associates, Bimal Sareen, Deepak Aggarwal and Himanshu Verma in Delhi, Ghaziabad, and Noida. The raids continued till Saturday morning and also covered the offices of Pilatus Aircraft at Nehru Place in Delhi, sources in the know told the Millennium Post.

The Central Bureau of Investigation had started a preliminary enquiry in the case in November 2006, investigation into which has led them to believe that there is evidence of large amounts of kickbacks paid to Bhandari by Pilatus, through several of his companies registered in India and the UAE. The probe agency has alleged that Pilatus had entered into a criminal conspiracy with Bhandari and Sareen, a director in his company, Offset India Solutions, and subsequently signed a service provider agreement with Bhandari in June 2010 to procure the contract for supplying the 75 basic trainer aircraft.

Further, the CBI has alleged that Pilatus paid over Rs 7 crore into a bank account registered to Offset India Solutions in two separate tranches in August and October of 2010. Then Bhandari's UAE company, Offset India Solutions FZC was allegedly paid around Rs 355 crore in subsequent tranches between 2011 and 2015 by the Swiss plane manufacturer. Bhandari's wife, Sonia Bhandari also allegedly received part of the kickbacks.

The agency suspects that the funds had been used to "influence" officials of the Indian Air Force and the MoD. Moreover, the probe agency has accused Pilatus of concealing the service provider agreement with Bhandari and the subsequent payments made to his companies. The Defence Ministry solemnised the Rs 2,895.63 crore deal with Pilatus in May 2012.

This action from the CBI spells new trouble for Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi's husband Robert Vadra, as the Enforcement Directorate continues to allege that Bhandari was his close associate who had purchased benami properties in London on behalf of Vadra, through his UAE-based companies.

Mysteriously, Bhandari was allowed to flee from the country despite a lookout circular issued against him and was last found to be residing in London. When the Income Tax Department was probing him, his phone call records clearly established that he had been in regular touch with a BJP leader who is now a minister in the UP government and had also been the party's Bengal affairs in-charge.

When the ED investigated Bhandari, it was also found that he had allegedly paid a senior journalist Rs 5 crore. Curiously, in both cases, neither the Income Tax Department nor the ED pursued those leads. A red corner notice has been issued against Bhandari.

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