THE CBI has registered a preliminary enquiry (PE) into the 2012 Pilatus aircraft deal by the previous UPA government, allegedly involving Sanjay Bhandari, the fugitive defence dealer. Sources said the PE was registered last month following the examination of an Income-Tax investigation report on Bhandari.
Bhandari was raided by I-T in April 2016, with investigators claiming that a cache of documents related to the aircraft deal had been seized. Sources said these documents allegedly show a payment of around 7,50,000 Swiss Francs from Pilatus to Bhandari’s Offset India Solution Pvt Ltd, which is suspected to be a commission. “We are probing what kind of services were rendered by Bhandari’s firm to Pilatus,” said a senior CBI official.
According to investigators, the raids also unearthed a separate tranche of emails related to a property deal in London, which allegedly link Bhandari to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra.
Unlike a regular CBI case, a PE is registered to verify and examine facts of a case, and is concluded within three months.
Bhandari has been under the scanner of Indian agencies for the last two years but left the country last year. A look-out notice has been issued against him by Delhi Police, which booked him under the stringent Official Secrets Act (OSA). Bhandari is currently believed to be in London.
The Rs 2,900-crore Pilatus deal, according to CBI, was signed by the UPA government for procurement of 75 basic trainer aircraft (BTA) from the Swiss firm. The aircraft, according to investigators, was chosen over American-made Beechcraft T-6C Texan II and the South Korean KT-1 aircraft.
Last year, former defence minister Manohar Parrikar had informed Lok Sabha that the deal was under the scanner. “There were a lot of discussions over Pilatus in 2012, when I came (to office), around 62 planes were already flying. I thought, if I raise it now, the air force (pilot) shortage, which has come to 164, would have gone up to 1,000,” Parrikar had said.
As for the emails found during the raids, a preliminary I-T report stated that they purportedly contained discussions on “payments and renovations for a London home (12 Ellerton House, Bryanston Square) bought for 19 lakh GBP (Rs 19 crore) in October 2009 and sold in June 2010”.
In one email, Vadra is alleged to have replied to London-based Sumit Chadda, a relative of Bhandari, that “he would look into the issue”, and that his “secretary” Manoj Arora will be “in touch”, according to the I-T report. Thereafter, Arora kept in touch with Chadda using an email ID “Exim Real Estate”, the report alleged.
Rejecting these allegations, Vadra’s lawyers had said that he “does not own directly or indirectly, house No 12, Ellerton House, Bryanston Square, London”. They also said that Vadra and his assistant “have not entered into any transaction of a financial nature with Mr Sanjay Bhandari and are not even aware that Mr Sanjay Bhandari is involved in any defense transaction”.