The CBI has registered a case of corruption against arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, Samsung Engineering Ltd and unknown officials of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) among others for alleged irregularities in award of a contract related to a petroleum project at Dahej in Gujarat.
Sources said the case was registered based on a reference sent by the Enforcement Directorate to CBI last year when ED was probing an alleged London property associated with Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra. The latter has denied owning any property in London.
Among those booked by the CBI are Bhandari’s company M/s. Santech International, FZC, UAE; M/s. Samsung Engineering Co. Ltd., South Korea; M/s. Foster Wheeler Energy Ltd., UK; Hong NamKoong, the then Senior Manager of SECL and “unknown officials of ONGC/OPal”.
According to CBI, “Sanjay Bhandari, Director of M/s. Santech international, UAE acted in criminal conspiracy with other accused and in furtherance of the said conspiracy entered into a consultancy agreement with M/s. SECL in violation of the contract agreement between M/s. OPaL & M/s. SECL and allegedly obtained US$ 49,99,969(approx) from M/s. SECL in the overseas bank account of M/s Santech International, UAE in order to induce unknown public servants to show alleged undue favour to the consortium of M/s SECL in the award of contract of DFCU project at Dahej, Gujarat.”
In the FIR, the CBI alleged “the said agreement was relating to the consultancy services to be provided by M/s. Santech International FZC to M/s. SECL for obtaining the said contract”.
The Indian Express had on February 10, 2019, reported that probing Vadra and his relationship with Bhandari, the ED was looking into whether a 2008 deal between ONGC and Samsung Engineering Ltd was linked to alleged payoffs that were behind the purchase of a property in London. The ED is probing Vadra in connection with half-a-dozen properties in London, which, it claims, are indirectly owned by him. The agency had last year told a Delhi court that one of these properties had been purchased in 2010 with “kickbacks” through Bhandari. It had claimed these kickbacks were paid to Bhandari in a “petroleum ministry deal of the UPA era”.
Vadra’s lawyer KTS Tulsi had then called the ED probe a “smear campaign and not an investigation”.
Sources said that the petroleum deal the ED told the court about and CBI mentioned in its FIR was related to a petro-chemical complex that ONGC has been building in a special economic zone in Dahej since 2008.
One of the projects in this complex was implemented by Samsung Engineering Ltd, which had hired Bhandari’s UAE-based consultancy firm Santech International FZC for consultancy services. After the award of the contract in December 2008, Samsung paid $49.9 lakh to Santech on June 13, 2009.
ED has claimed that of this money, 1.9 million GBP was allegedly siphoned off into another company named Vortex and then used by Bhandari to buy a London property which is currently held by Skylight FZE. The company is promoted by one C C Thampi, who has been questioned by ED.
ED told the court that Bhandari sold the London property to Skylight FZE at the same price despite incurring renovation expenses to the tune of GBP 65,000. It also cited purported email exchanges between Vadra and a Bhandari aide on renovation of the said property.
An email sent to Samsung Engineering spokesperson Jin Hartmann did not elicit any response. With regard to the ED case, he had earlier told The Indian Express, “Samsung Engineering complies with the laws and regulations in the conduct of business, including in the project award process.”
OPaL was incorporated as a special purpose vehicle by ONGC in partnership with Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL) and Gujarat State Petroleum Corp (GPSC). OPaL was to build the largest petrochemical complex at Dahej at a cost of $4.5 billion. The complex was to have a dual feed cracker unit and associated units with an annual capacity to produce 1.1 million tonnes of ethylene and 400,000 tonnes of propylene. To build this mother plant, OPaL gave the contract for engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) to a consortium of Samsung Engineering Ltd of Korea and German engineering firm Linde. Late Congress leader Murli Deora was petroleum minister when the deal was struck.
In February 2017, three years behind schedule, OPaL announced the complex as commissioned.
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