Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is investigating 2012 Pilatus Aircraft Deal worth 2900 crore. The Defense Ministry ordered 75 PC-7 Turbo Trainers for the Indian Air Force. It was found that Pilatus paid 7, 50,000 Swiss Francs to Offset India Solution Pvt Ltd owned by Sanjay Bhandari. “We are probing what kind of services was rendered by Bhandari’s firm to Pilatus,” said a senior CBI official. Bhandari is a family friend of Robert Vadra, brother in law of Congress president Rahul Gandhi. The Congress era aircraft deal did not turn out to be beneficial for the country as the last tranche was delivered in July 2018 and the company did not extend the maintenance deal for the PC-7 trainers.
The light-attack aircraft deal was signed in 2012 because powerful lobbyist like Bhandari pushed for it. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the state-owned defense manufacturer could have upgraded and even modified the Hindustan Turbo Trainer-40 which has almost a similar function. But the UPA government did not ask the HAL to do the same and purchased the light attack aircraft from the Swiss company. The Swiss aircraft manufacturer paid a hefty amount to Sanjay Bhandari who lobbied/influenced UPA government to make the deal.
IAF confirmed HTT-40 for the deal and stated that it had the requirement of 180 trainers. But the deal later was bagged by Pilatus because Robert Vadra’s family friend was backing the Swiss manufacturer. The UPA government ordered probe in shady deals of Sanjay Bhandari back in 2013. Offset India Solutions Private Limited, Micromet ATI and AVAANA Software and Services Private Limited, three companies owned by Bhandari were being investigated by the CBI. But the probe was later suspended due to pressure from high officials. “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,” revealed a secret note of 2013.
Bhandari ran six companies from a single address i.e. Panchsheel Park, Delhi. Middlemen like Bhandari who had the access to corridors of power influenced the defense deal during UPA era. “Foreign defense companies do not shy away from seeking their services. All defense 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,” read the secret note.
Moreover, Ministry of Defense suspended all deals with Bhandari’s firm in January 2018. Bhandari managed to flee to London to escape from the probe. His properties worth 20 crore rupees including four luxury cars were seized by the police. Enforcement Directorate seized assets worth 26.61 crore rupees over foreign exchange violations. The story of Sanjay Bhandari is a typical rag to riches one. From being nobody he became high profile ‘defense consultant’ because he had access to corridors of power during the Congress-led UPA era. He formed an OIS group in 2008 with paid-up capital of just 1 lakh rupees and now the group owns several companies in the defense sector with around hundreds of crores of turnover.
The Congress party never tried to establish a rule-based system in the country despite the fact that it ruled the country for more than five decades. India functioned like a feudal system under Nehru-Gandhi family where access to corridors of power and kinship mattered more than anything else. The sycophancy to Nehru Gandhi family and loyalty to their family members was given ‘supreme importance’ in deciding who gets the sweeter deals.