Thwarting efforts by Indian agencies to have him extradited from the UAE where he had been detained, Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara, the owner of Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech group and a key accused in a Rs 5,300-crore bank loan fraud, is believed to have left the Emirates.
On August 15, Indian agencies had learnt that Sandesara had been detained by UAE authorities. Both the CBI and Enforcement Directorate (ED) had immediately written to the UAE apprising it of the cases against him and requesting his provisional arrest. However, the information now received by the agencies is that he is no more in the Gulf country.
“What we have learnt is that he had been detained by authorities in the UAE for an offence related to local issues. The detention was not related to our case. He is not in the UAE anymore. We do not exactly know where he is. He has investments and companies from the United Kingdom to Nigeria. He could be anywhere,” an official involved with the investigation said.
It is in the Sterling Biotech case that the CBI has told the Central Vigilance Commission that it is probing its Special Director, Rakesh Asthana.
Sources said that following the news of Sandesara’s detention, the CBI had sent the request for provisional arrest, while the ED had sent a request for extradition through the Ministry of External Affairs. Agency sources said they had no information as to why the UAE did not honour the requests.
Sandesara and his brother Chetan Jayantilal Sandesara, both directors in the Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech pharmaceutical firm, are key accused in the case. It is alleged that the company took loans of Rs 5,383 crore from a consortium led by Andhra Bank, which later turned into non-performing assets. The case is also believed to involve politicians and bureaucrats. The Sandesara brothers have been absconding since the case was registered by the CBI in October 2017. The ED is probing a case of money laundering against the company and the Sandesaras.
Apart from Sterling Biotech and the Sandesara brothers, the CBI had named three other directors of the firm, Dipti Chetan Sandesara, Rajbhushan Omprakash Dixit and Vilas Joshi; chartered accountant Hemant Hathi; former Andhra Bank director Anup Garg; and some unidentified persons.
Dixit and Garg have been arrested by the ED, apart from Delhi-based businessman Gagan Dhawan. The agency has also filed multiple prosecution complaints or chargesheets before a special court and, in June, attached assets worth over Rs 4,700 crore of the firm.
The CBI FIR says, “In order to avail maximum loan, the directors of M/S SBL (Sterling Biotech Ltd) connived with the in-house CA and in active criminal conspiracy with others falsified the material records of the company inter alia related to production, turnover and investments in capital assets using various India-based entities and entities situated abroad. On the basis of these false and fabricated documents, manipulated balance sheets were prepared to induce the banks to sanction higher amounts of loans which were later diverted for personal purposes.”
The CBI has alleged that the company also falsely represented its market capitalisation. For this, the CBI says, “shares in India and abroad in the names of non-promoters were in fact held by the directors themselves which were concealed from the banks with the dishonest intent to cheat them”. According to the CBI, manipulations were done in reporting turnover, investment in capital goods and taxes to be paid on the turnover. The bogus turnovers were in turn arrived at through bogus sales to benami companies in Dubai and India and inflated export bills.
For instance, for the year ending March 31, 2008, while the actual purchase of capital goods was worth Rs 50 crore, in the account books it was shown to be worth Rs 405 crore, the CBI says. “Rs 355 crore was to be diverted through group companies.” Similarly, while the actual turnover of the company in FY 2007-08 was Rs 304.8 crore, it was shown to be Rs 918.3 crore in I-T returns and balance sheets, the FIR says.
The CBI has alleged that the group was laundering money through a circuitous route and even indulged in insider trading. As part of the conspiracy, the CBI has alleged, the Sandesaras were regularly supplying money to Anup Garg in Delhi through angarias (cash couriers).