Congress leader and Sonia Gandhi’s special loyalist, Ahmed Patel has lost more than just his power. In a recent turn of events, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has attached properties worth Rs 9,778 crore belonging to the Sandesaras in a money laundering scandal at Sterling Biotech. This is unfortunate for Patel as during earlier investigations, his name had surfaced in connection with the case for reportedly having taken massive amounts in bribes.
Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Kumar Sandesara, Hitesh Kumar Patel and Dipti Sandesara are prime accused in the case. The ED has attached the overseas assets of the Sandesaras which include four oil rigs in Nigeria, two ships registered in Panama, a Gulfstream luxury aircraft registered in the USA and a residential flat in London.
The extradition process has already been initiated against the Sterling Biotech fugitive promoters, Sandesara family, in connection with a bank fraud case amounting to Rs 8100 crore.
Earlier, in August 2017, ED had filed a case of money laundering under PMLA against Sterling Biotech Company. Thereafter, the promoters of the group, Nitin and Chetan Sandesara fled the country. Later, in October, 2018, the agency filed a chargesheet in the Sterling Biotech case in a special PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) court in New Delhi. Investigations by the ED revealed that the Sandesara brothers and others hatched a criminal conspiracy to cheat banks by manipulating figures in the balance sheets of their flagship companies to induce banks to sanction higher loans. Thereafter, the accused diverted the loans through a web of shell companies, to be used for personal purposes.
This Gujarat based firm has also been accused of giving massive amounts in bribes to IAS, IPS and Income tax officers. They had close associations with Ahmed Patel and, his son and son in law, Faisal Patel and Irfan Siddiqui. Witnesses have vouched for Ahmed’s involvement with the Sandesaras. According to the witness, Ahmed Patel’s official residence, 23, Mother Teresa Crescent was termed as “the headquarters”.
Republic has reported the witness’s statements, talking about the exact situations in which monetary dealings took place. The witness was an employee of Chetan Kumar Sandesara, and had accompanied him 4-5 times to Ahmed Patel’s son in law, Irfan Siddiqui’s Vasant Vihar residence, carrying huge bags of cash. The cash amount used to range between RS 15 lakhs and 25 lakhs and the dealings took place between October 2009 and June 2011. Cash was also given to Irfan when he used to visit Chetan at his farmhouse. Moreover, according to Republic, Chetan also used to visit Ahmed Patel’s official residence, termed as “the headquarters”. They have gone to this address at least twenty-five to thirty times. Ahmed Patel’s son Faisal Patel used to take his friends to Puspanjali Farms to party, expenses for which were borne by Chetan. In 2011, he spent around 10 lakhs for a party.
According to the ED official’s statement, along with witness statement they also have “telephonic chats and financial transactions” as proof to back the charges in the case. The ED has already arrested a Delhi-based businessman-cum-middleman, Gagan Dhawan, who used to accompany Chetan Sandesara on the cash delivery trips to Ahmed Patel and Irfan Siddiqui.
With the attachment of property and the extradition process, it is clear that the walls are closing in on Sterling Biotech. After prompt action against Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Vijay Mallya, the Modi government has exhibited zero tolerance towards fugitive economic offenders. Apart from the Sandesara brothers, the evidence against Ahmed Patel and his kin is overwhelming and accurate, something which he may not be able to escape from. The closer investigative agencies get to the Sandesaras, the more trouble it will spell for senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel.