Fresh revelations alleging that arms agent Sanjay Bhandari, who has been on the Income Tax Department’s radar since he was raided in April 2016, may have purchased international business-class air tickets for Robert Vadra and may have created political ripples but officials in the Department say that aspect of the probe has virtually reached a dead end.
Reason: when tax sleuths approached the Paharganj-based travel agency through which the air passage had been booked, they were informed that the payments were received in cash and they had no recollection whether the money was handed over to them by someone from either Sanjay Bhandari’s side or Robert Vadra’s side.
Said a senior Income Tax official monitoring the probe, “If the payments for the flights had been made by cheque, we could have traced the person who made the payments. But since the payments were made in cash there is nothing to dig deeper. And an amount of between Rs 8 lakh-Rs 10 lakh is too small an amount for us to call Robert Vadra over for questioning.”
Significantly, officials said that the mail trail of ticket bookings for Zurich (the bookings were for August 2012) were located by them shortly after searches were conducted along with other mails connected to the renovation of a property in London ostensibly being done by Sanjay Bhandari for Robert Vadra.
Officials who were part of the Income tax team that questioned Bhandari soon after he was raided said that he was extremely evasive about any queries raised with him. And this had included questions put to him on air tickets being booked for Vadra and who had made the payments. “I do not recall” is what Bhandari had repeatedly said on the subject. It is to be recalled that Sanjay Bhandari has been on the “absconding” list for the past few months and, in his absence, his properties to the tune of Rs 20 crore have been attached by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) earlier this year.
The Income Tax Department, meanwhile, has focused its attention on the international side of the Bhandari probe since the raids revealed that the arms agent had several properties and bank accounts, for one, in Dubai. There is also the important angle of huge payments being received from Swiss aircraft major Pilatus and deposited into Bhandari’s bank accounts in Dubai.
Said a top IT official, “Our investigations have so far revealed that while the payments came in from Pilatus, they were quickly routed out to several off shore companies within a day or two. This is the stage at which we are now and we are waiting for details from several off shore jurisdictions where the payments were moved. It was all done in a very clever and layered manner and the case has become a challenge.”
In June 2016, The Indian Express reported that Bhandari had admitted that the email trail recovered from his computer was indeed that of messages exchanged between him, Robert Vadra and Vadra’s assistant Manoj Arora.
Officials confirmed that Bhandari was confronted with the batch of emails, including one dated April 4, 2010 — the only one sent from Vadra’s own email ID and signed off by him — and he acknowledged the exchanges on the subject of finalising interiors for an apartment in London.
An attachment to one of the mails shows that while the cost of refurbishing was earlier estimated by Sumit Chadda, a relative of Bhandari, to be 28,000 pounds, additional items were added to the worklist and the estimate went up to 35,000 pounds. On May 5, 2016, the IT’s investigation wing assessed the significance of the mail trail and sent as many as seven requests to countries for details of property deals involving Bhandari.