Probing Robert Vadra and his relationship with absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) is looking into whether a 2008 deal between ONGC and Samsung Engineering Ltd is 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 recently told a Delhi court that one of these properties had been purchased in 2010 with “kickbacks” through Bhandari. It has claimed these kickbacks were paid to Bhandari in a “petroleum ministry deal of the UPA era”.
Last week, Vadra’s lawyer K T S Tulsi had told The Indian Express that his client “has no foreign asset” and that the ED probe was a “smear campaign and not an investigation”.
The petroleum deal the ED told the court about, sources said, is related to a petro-chemical complex that the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) has been building in a special economic zone in Dahej, Gujarat, 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 USD 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 already been questioned by ED.
“We stumbled upon details of the ONGC-Samsung deal while probing Bhandari’s finances. Now we will also probe the deal with the angle of money laundering,” a senior ED official said.
ED has told the court that Bhandari sold the London property to Skylight FZE at the same price it bought despite incurring renovation expenses to the tune of GBP 65,000. It has also cited email exchanges between Vadra and a Bhandari aide where renovation of the said property is being discussed.
Vadra is being questioned by ED in connection with the properties in London and his links with Bhandari.
Tulsi earlier told the court that his client was being “subjected to a farce of criminal prosecution which actually is beset with nothing else except political vendetta and most unfortunately, the respondent, being the law enforcement agency, is a party to the unethical and illegal exercise”.
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 over two days.
Samsung Engineering spokesperson Jin Hartmann said, “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 USD 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.
While Linde was to provide critical components and basic engineering, Samsung was responsible for assembling the plant and engage in detailed engineering, along with supply of construction equipment. In February 2017, three years behind schedule, OPaL announced the complex as commissioned.