The Bofors Scandal that rocked the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1987 brought to light the nefarious presence of middlemen in defence deals. It was a syndicate that brokered big defence deals, flaunted enviable contacts, and wielded immense influence in the corridors of power and bent the rules to its huge benefits. In April 2015, when income tax officials raided a house in a Delhi’s upscale Greater Kailash area, a new face from this intriguing world of ‘defence dealers’ came before the world. The man in question was Sanjay Bhandari, whose contact list stunned investigating agencies.
According to a Hindustan Times report in 2014, after the BJP came to power, “a top secret report of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) listed Bhandari as a close aide of (Robert) Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and mentioned that he was friends with the son of a former senior BJP leader”.
The same report states, “Bhandari’s contact list was so impressive that after the I-T raids, he could send word to Prime Minister Narendra Modi through two influential people to explore possibility of immunity in exchange of information. However, his request received a cold response and he went into a shell, deserted by his powerful friends, including cabinet ministers, senior intelligence officials, industrialists, senior judicial functionaries and power brokers”.
Now a less than two years into the investigation, Bhandari is feared to have fled the country.
According to a report published in the New Indian Express, government sources are suspecting that Bhandari might have fled the country, ditching the investigating agencies. The report states:
“Government sources suspect Bhandari might have reached London via Nepal, evading a look -out notice issued against him. Bhandari was earlier stopped from boarding a London-bound British Airways flight in June. He was charged under sections 3 and 5 of the Official Secrets Act (OSA) by Delhi Police in October after the Income Tax sleuths recovered confidential defence documents during the search operation on his premises in April“
Bhandari, who like many of his professional confederates, led a luxurious shadow life and would have been under wraps, notwithstanding the bad timing of his shadow-world being exposed. In an article about Bhandari, Outlook wrote:
“Bhandari was barely known to the public even though he led a five-star lifestyle and had a raft of VIP contacts, among them, as enforcement agencies claim, (Vadra), son-in-law of (Sonia). Bhandari’s shadow world would have remained hidden were it not for a routine raid by income-tax officials on some Delhi-based hawala operators early this year. While probing a particular dealer, one entry was for Rs 116 crore, on behalf of a Delhi-based company. A probe into this company led them to Bhandari. On 26 April, Bhandari’s offices and houses in Delhi were raided“
The clout, reach, influence and access to the highest echelons of power that likes of Bhandari wield can be gauged from the fact of his alleged relation with the most powerful political family of the country. “The documents seized showed, had a range of high-level contacts, was in possession of classified documents from the defence ministry and also had properties in the UAE and London, as well as a Panama-based company. For the media, the focus remained largely on his Vadra link,” stated the Outlook report.
The extent of Bhandari’s ‘reach’ can be assessed by the fact that “documents recovered from Bhandari’s premises reveals that he made investment in two properties in Dubai and London using companies registered in tax haven countries”. The agencies are likely to question individuals linked with Bhandari. As reported by the New Indian Express, Bhandari was in touch with some top guns of the country including a top officer of the finance ministry, who retired from the service last year.
The report goes on to add that the probe that is underway has also put under the scanner ties between Bhandari, a French multinational called the Thales Group and the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS).
While the escape of Bhandari has yet to be authenticated and rests in the realm of ‘fear’, it could prove to be a major embarrassment for the Centre and investigating agencies if these fears fructify and turn to reality. Given that in March this year, liquor baron Vijay Mallya fled to London — causing much criticism to the government, Bhandari’s escape can cause more problems for the government.
The reason for the concern in the ‘feared’ fleeing of Bhandari lies the fact that his escape can derail the investigations into the kickback links between politicians, businessmen and the intermediaries running this illegal multi-million-dollar commission syndicate in the country’s defence sector.
First Published On : Dec 22, 2016 16:01 IST