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ED arrests Robert Vadra aide, says bank records link to laundering, property

C C Thampi is said to be a close aide of Vadra and is alleged to have helped him invest in real estate assets in London.

Written by Ritu Sarin , Deeptiman Tiwary | New Delhi | Updated: January 21, 2020 11:01:43 am
robert vadra, robert vadra aide arrest, robert vadra money laundering case, cc thampi, robert vadra corruption case, sonia gandhi, indian express news Money trail led to Vadra associate Thampi, claims ED. (Express Photo)

The Enforcement Directorate (ED) Monday arrested NRI businessman C C Thampi in connection with a case of alleged money laundering it is probing against Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari.

Thampi is said to be a close aide of Vadra and is alleged to have helped him invest in real estate assets in London. Thampi runs a company named Skylight FZE in Dubai which shares its name with a company owned by Vadra in India.

It was the receipt of foreign banking transactions from several countries that led to the arrest of Thampi with the ED claiming that they now had evidence to link him to money laundering and property acquisition deals with Vadra and Bhandari.

Vadra’s lawyer K T S Tulsi, contacted by The Indian Express, said since the case was sub-judice, he did not wish to make any comment on the ED claims.

The first of the deals that the ED is likely to submit as evidence to court following Thampi’s arrest is the ownership of the Bryanston Square property in London, which the agency had earlier alleged was acquired by Bhandari for Vadra.

The ED is linking the purchase of the property to alleged kickbacks to the tune of $4.9 million received by Bhandari for getting a contract from ONGC in favour of his company Santech International FZC which was formed in 2007. The alleged kickbacks, according to the ED, were for a petroleum contract given to Samsung Engineering by ONGC in 2009 during the UPA era.

Banking transactions in several countries since 2009 were examined by the ED and the Thampi link, according to the agency, came up on June 25, 2010 when the Bryanston Square property was sold by the company holding it for Bhandari to a company owned by Thampi in Dubai.

These are the key allegations of the ED regarding the money laundering case:

* That Bhandari had majority shareholding in Santech International and that 1.92 million pounds were transferred on December 10, 2009 to the UK. The funds were also used for the purchase of two shares of a BVI company named Vertex Holding with an agreement signed the following day. This company was holding the Bryanston Square property. The ED has alleged that the funds came from kickbacks from the 2009 petroleum deal.

* Once the house was acquired, all renovation and redesign work, the ED claimed, was done at the behest of Vadra at a cost of 60,000 pounds and that Vadra also visited the place. An email trail on the Vadra connection to the refurbishing of the property was recovered during an Income Tax search on Bhandari.

* Once the renovation was over, the property, according to ED, changed hands from Vertex Holding BVI to Skylight Investment FZE, owned by Thampi. The 1.9 million pounds, received by Vertex Holdings BVI on June 25, 2010, was transferred back to Santech International in its bank account on June 30, 2010 and thereon, the funds were “siphoned out” by making payments to two other companies, Choice Point Trading and Jain Trading. Owners of one of these two firms have been detained at an airport and questioned about the transactions.

* Subsequently, on March 30, 2013, the name of Skylight Investment FZE was changed to Mayfair Investment FZE and Thampi also transferred his shareholding to his relatives. The ED’s case is that the Bryanston Square property is presently owned by Skylight Investment FZE (now Mayfair Investment FZE).

The ED claims it has also found that these two companies never had any business activity since the time of incorporation but huge deposits, equivalent to 1.9 million pounds, were made into its bank accounts just prior to the purchase of the property. The ED has details of tranches of funds (in UAE dirham) between June 9, 2010 and June 25, 2010.

In February 2019, when The Indian Express first reported on the ED probe, ONGC and ONGC Petro Additions Limited (OpaL), a special purpose vehicle incorporated by ONGC in 2006, did not respond to phone calls, messages and emails despite repeated attempts.

Samsung Engineering spokesperson Jin Hartmann had then said, “Samsung Engineering complies with the laws and regulations in the conduct of business, including in the project award process.”

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