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Millennium Post

Defence middleman's web of fraud goes unnoticed

ACCUSATION 1

Indian Air Force purchased 12 helicopters from Augusta Westland (AW) for Rs 3,546 crore. In Italy, where AW is based, rumours abound that there are ‘kickbacks’ paid to Indians. Evidence points towards AW's agreement with Ganton Ltd for ‘providing necessary assistance’ to conclude the deal ‘rapidly and favourably’. Ganton USA is allegedly owned partly by Abhishek Verma.

ACCUSATION 2

Rheinmetall, a Swiss howitzer manufacturer, had responded to a request of the ministry of defence (MoD) to supply self-propelled 155 mm guns. But it was blacklisted by the MoD for  bribing Sudipta Ghosh, then director general of the Ordnance Factory Board. The company approached Ganton to get its name removed from the government’s blacklist and paid the US company $ 5,30,000.

ACCUSATION 3

ECI Telecom, an Israeli company, was in real trouble when the commerce ministry had imposed anti-dumping duties worth $ 100 million against the company. That is when the company decided to get in touch the 'solution provider', the US-based Ganton Ltd, supposedly owned partly by Abhishek Verma and promised it to pay $ 1 million if the latter could get the duty waived off.

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The series of allegations have not come from any Indian investigation or intelligence agency. The body of evidence that reinforces these allegations through a bunch of documents of about 100 pages comes from one C Edmonds Allen, a US attorney, with whom Abhishek Verma got into an agreement to manage the latter’s funds worth $ 410 million, according to two contracts signed in 2000 and 2004.

Verma also got the American attorney to open the US company Ganton Ltd allegedly for both laundering his funds and doing business with various overseas clients. Allen fell out with Verma in the late 2011, when a European, Didier Tytgadt, informed him that a Mauritius-based company MYC Ltd was his, and not Verma’s, as Verma had claimed. This was also the time that Verma started putting pressure on Allen to raise fictitious invoices to defraud Tytgadt off his money. When Allen refused to do his bidding, Verma threatened with getting him summoned to India by the government authorities and getting him jailed.

In January this year, Verma began the process of getting the $ 410 million released from the escrow account he had that was managed by Allen. First, Verma issued him instructions to release the funds. When the US attorney did not transfer the money, he got an American legal firm to send him a legal notice. When even that did not help, he filed a legal suit in a US district court on 15 February 2012.

Allen, meanwhile, had begun his rearguard action. He wrote the first letter of allegations on 10 February, addressed to Pradip Kumar, the chief vigilance commissioner, giving the history and details of his dealings with Verma and his associates. Allen sent copies of that letter to the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Enforcement Directorate, the Central Economic Intelligence Bureau and interestingly, the Federal Bureau of Investigation of the USA. From then on, Allen kept on writing letters: he wrote to the defence minister A K Antony, the Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju, the home minister P Chidambaram and the commerce minister Anand Sharma. He bombarded the CBIw and the Enforcement Directorate with emails. But, he faced a wall of stony silence.

Allen knew Verma had political influence in India. Verma often bragged about it. Also, some documents in Allen’s possession reflected the depths of Verma’s influence in the United Progressive Alliance government.

Amongst the series of documents that he now released through the India Against Corruption organisation, there is an email that showed to what extent Verma had suborned the government system.

Writing to one Zeev Kaftori of Israel on 17 December 2011, Verma said that there had been a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Minister for External Affairs S M Krishna that day, where Krishna would be asked to visit Israel on 9 and 10 February.

Verma also claimed that Krishna, following the visit, would talk of closer Indo-Israeli ties and recommend removal of the anti-dumping duty imposed on ECI Telecom.

Later two officials of Verma’s company Sig Sauer India and its parent company, chief executive Ron Cohen and Lueke, had two meetings scheduled with people in the government and the Congress top brass. One of them was an hour-long meeting on 6 December 2011 at 3 pm with Rahul Gandhi.

The next meeting was scheduled the next day at 4 pm with Vivek Rae, director general (acquisitions) of the ministry of defence.
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