It has become increasingly difficult for Congress’ son in law Robert Vadra to keep his skeletons hidden in his closet. The CBI has registered an FIR in connection with the Swiss-based Pilatus aircraft deal. The CBI has registered the case against some officials of the Indian Air Force, the Ministry of Defence, Pilatus Aircraft Ltd. and Sanjay Bhandari- a close associate of Robert Vadra. Charges of irregularities and corruption have been framed against them.
Sanjay Bhandari had been really visible with Robert Vadra in social circles, including arms expos in Dubai and Farn borough and the duo was often seen together in luxury hotels in the capital.
The Income Tax Department had already established links between the two and had questioned Bhandari over Vadra’s France trip in 2012. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has also questioned Vadra in the past in connection with the Pilatus deal while investigating the London properties case. He owns two houses in London worth 5 million and 4 million pounds each and six flats, which the ED has informed the court about. His overall properties in London amount to 12 million pounds.
The Pilatus deal was regarding the purchase of 75 Pilatus PC-7 basic trainer aircraft for the IAF. It was worth Rs 2,896 crore. Sanjay Bhandari wielded considerable influence as an arms dealer during the Congress rule. In 2008, he set up Offset Solutions and in 2010, Offset signed a deal with Pilatus. The investigative agencies found out that 7,50,000 Swiss francs were paid by Pilatus to Bhandari for consultancy. This period coincided with the time when Sanjay Bhandari was purchasing real estate in London. It has also been alleged that kickbacks worth Rs 339 crore was paid to Offset Solutions to in the procurement of the aircraft. It is being maintained by the investigative agencies that the kickbacks were used to buy benami properties for Robert Vadra in London.
The CBI conducted raids and seized incriminating documents and articles, from several premises related to Bhandari. According to India Today TV, Robert Vadra had allegedly emailed Bhandari’s nephew Sumit Chadha giving him clear instructions about the property dealings. Robert Vadra had a keen interest in the Bryanston property, London and as email correspondence points out, he wanted to know all about the renovation work being carried out. The email trail also indicates that the laundered money was allegedly being used to buy properties.
The Pilatus deal is an example of how Congress looked over HAL and Indian companies to favor specific lobbyists. This 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 only reason why the deal happened was because Bhandari had pushed for it. 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.
Now, Sanjay Bhandari’s involvement may come to light which could possibly lead to further trouble for Robert Vadra. Benami property cases are already mounting against him and the investigation in the Pilatus deal may further tie Vadra up in illegal transactions.