The escape of high-profile arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, who was under investigation and whose passport had been impounded by the Income Tax department, cannot be dismissed as a mere case of slip on the part of the security agencies. This is the second big case in the recent times of a big financial offender managing his escape from the country. The first being the infamous case of industrialist Vijay Mallya. The escape of Bhandari is graver as he was found to be in possession of sensitive military procurement documents and, unlike in case of Mallya, there already was a ban in place to not let him go out of the country.
A look out notice had been issued against him in July this year and according to reports Immigration has informed the Home Ministry that Bhandari did not leave from any port/airport under its supervision. The matter is being seen as a major lapse on part of the Delhi Police, as they were expected to keep track of Bhandari’s activities and movements after having registered a case against the arms dealer under the Official Secrets Act in October. Following raids carried out in April, the income tax department had questioned Bhandari several times.
The ED though is yet to register a case against him under money laundering charges. During raids in April, the IT department had found documents which indicated his close association with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and relating to his investments, including emails mentioning the renovation of a costly apartment in London in 2010 that was alleged to be a ‘benami’ property of Vadra. During the course of investigation, his association with senior BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh too had cropped up. The probe teams in June this year had contacted investment havens like British Virgin Islands (BVI), the UAE, Switzerland, a few other countries and the UK to find details about Bhandari's transactions and investments. That Bhandari managed his escape despite being investigated by three agencies: the Delhi Police, the Income Tax department and the Enforcement Directorate and a look out notice in place shows us in a very poor light.
It is now suspected that he has managed to reach London, where Mallya too has found refuge, traveling through Nepal. Earlier in the year on June 29, Bhandari was stopped from boarding a British Airways flight for London at Delhi airport. London is a favoured destination for such people as to bring them back would need to go through the cumbersome extradition process. This we have already witnessed in the cases of Vijay Mallya and before him former Indian Premier League Commissioner Lalit Modi.
Bhandari’s escape also points to the possibility of the arms dealer using a fake passport made with a different identity, and this again shows lacunae in our security and vigilance systems and calls for a deep probe. The agencies, according to news reports, are now seeking international cooperation to find out whether he took a flight from Kathmandu, or used some other mode of travel. This is immaterial as it is just closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.