New Delhi: Fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari has sued French firm Thales over €11m (Rs 92 crore) as “commissions” that he claims is owed to him in connection with a defence deal inked in India a decade ago, according to a report published in the United Kingdom Monday.
Bhandari, who is wanted in India under the Officials Secrets Act, is currently in the UK, where he has sought asylum.
The deal in contention is the €2.4 billion contract to upgrade Indian Air Force (IAF)’s Mirage 2000 aircraft, which was signed in 2011 under the then United Progressive Alliance government.
The French firm, which is also part of the 2016 deal India signed for the delivery of 36 Rafale jets, is “facing allegations that it used a secret and illicit system of paying middlemen to secure lucrative international contracts”, said a report by the UK-based newspaper, The Telegraph.
Citing court documents, The Telegraph reported that Bhandari alleges he “helped” Thales to “sell the upgrade of the Mirage jets by facilitating a meeting” with a senior defence ministry official. Moreover, he claims that he was due a consultancy fee of “€20m but was only paid €9m”.
Bhandari has described himself in the lawsuit as a “well-known commercial intermediary involved in arms and defence in India”, who has “worked with major international defence companies to assist them in negotiating arms contracts with the Indian Ministry of Defence”. The lawsuit is ongoing and a judgment is expected later this year.
In a statement to ThePrint, the French firm said Bhandari filed a petition against Thales SA in a commercial court in June 2021 for the settlement of sums allegedly due to him on an aeronautical modernisation project.
“Thales firmly denies the claims by Mr Sanjay Bhandari regarding the sums allegedly due or any other payments to him by Thales SA. Thales has never signed a contract with Mr Bhandari or his companies in connection with this project,” it said.
“Thales complies with the law and applies a zero tolerance policy on corruption and influence peddling. The group’s integrity programme is regularly evaluated and amended to reflect changes in applicable legislation and best practices,” it added.
Who is Bhandari?
Sanjay Bhandari, considered close to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, had fled India in 2016 following raids at his residence for allegedly possessing classified information on the country’s defence purchases. He was later charged under the Official Secrets Act.
While initially security agencies believed that the elusive arms dealer had gone into “hiding”, ThePrint had in 2018 traced him to an upscale property close to the famous Berkeley Square in London.
India has moved the UK for his extradition for money laundering and tax evasion cases against him. A hearing in the case is due in London next month. Bhandari is currently on conditional bail in the UK awaiting outcome of his extradition case.
The Mirage upgrade
The Mirage 2000 upgrade programme is delayed and has missed its original 2021-end deadline.
The upgrade of the aircraft, bought between 1982 and 1985, aimed at giving it better firepower, new sensors, latest electronic warfare systems and a life-extension.
The IAF had last year signed a contract worth about Rs 300 crore with a French private firm for the purchase of phased-out Mirage 2000 aircraft to be used as ‘Christmas trees’ for spares.