Mumbai: Two years have passed since Dheeraj Wadhawan, former promoter of Dewan Housing Finance Corporation Limited (DHFL), was arrested in connection with the Yes Bank ‘money laundering’ case, but he has spent more time in a luxury hospital than behind bars.
Since his arrest on 26 April 2020, for allegedly getting investments of Rs 3,700 crore from Yes Bank for DHFL in exchange for “substantial undue benefit” to bank CEO Rana Kapoor and his family, Wadhawan has been repeatedly denied bail but spent only about nine months in jail.
For the remaining 15 months or so, he has divided his time between hospitals, citing a succession of ailments. These stays have included a 10-month stint at Mumbai’s plush Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital.
Now, Wadhawan will get to extend his stay a little longer thanks to a Bombay High Court ruling last week about his “right to health”.
In March, a CBI court had ordered that Wadhawan should be shifted out of Kokilaben Hospital, and to Taloja Jail, which led to him petitioning the high court.
Setting aside the CBI court order Friday, the HC ruled that although Wadhawan did not need to be “hospitalised continuously at Kokilaben”, he could undergo a nasal surgery [as advised by an ENT surgeon, according to his lawyers] there.
“[P]ost that he should be taken to J.J. Hospital or KEM Hospital [both government-run] in case of necessity, else he should be taken back to Taloja Jail,” the HC said.
The ruling is a reprieve for Wadhawan, but the fact that he has managed to stay at a luxurious facility of his choosing for so long has caused some consternation, considering the serious charges against him, including cheating and criminal conspiracy.
“Various judgments have taken a view that whenever an accused needs medical treatment, it needs to be first provided in a state-run hospital,” special public prosecutor Hiten Venegavkar told ThePrint.
“Only if a certain treatment is not available in a state hospital can you think of a private hospital… otherwise, every wealthy accused will say he wants to be treated in a five-star hospital.”
Wadhawan has been persistent in seeking private healthcare, with pleas reaching not just the courts but the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission. The fear of contracting Covid — especially with Wadhawan’s “comorbidities” — has been among the arguments made by his team to seek private healthcare.
Demands for private treatment: From court to human rights commission
“Since day one,” Venegavkar said, “Wadhawan has been complaining of something or the other.”
Some of these health issues seem to have preceded the arrest and others appear to have been detected later, but they often involved demands for private healthcare.
In its Friday ruling, the Bombay High Court observed that Wadhawan had suffered a heart attack in 2018, and had required an angioplasty. In 2019, he also reportedly developed a bacterial infection in his lungs.
Between May and November 2020 — after his arrest — Wadhawan underwent multiple medical tests at the jail hospital as well as J.J. Hospital.
On 4 November 2020, when his bail plea was rejected, he filed an application in the magistrate court for hospitalisation in a private medical facility.
In his application, he claimed that his medical reports from Taloja Jail found several 4mm stones in his gall bladder, a 6mm stone in his right kidney, and a pleural infection in his right lung.
However, according to magistrate court records, J.J. Hospital authorities said that Wadhawan only had one 3mm gallstone. At first, the hospital said his condition could be managed non-intrusively, but, on 13 November 2020, he was advised to undergo gall bladder surgery.
Wadhawan immediately objected to having this surgery performed at J.J. Hospital. He refused treatment, “took discharge against medical advice” on 14 November, and his counsel approached the magistrate court citing concerns about contracting Covid amid comorbidities.
“He is having a lung infection and further he has a high chance of contracting the Covid virus. Hence, he has prayed that he to be shifted to a private hospital,” Wadhawan’s legal team argued in the magistrate court.
They requested the court to give “necessary direction” to the superintendent of Taloja Jail to allow for Wadhawan’s immediate transfer to Hinduja Hospital Health Care Hospital at Khar or Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital. “Expenses will be borne by the accused,” Wadhawan’s counsel affirmed.
However, upon examining the medical records submitted by J.J. Hospital, the court concluded that it had the required facilities for Wadhawan’s surgery.
“The treatment for the ailment is available at Sir J.J. Hospital. And there is no genuine reason given by Wadhawan to refuse treatment at J.J.,” the court remarked, adding that it would have considered the application had there been a “genuine reason” or “difficulty” necessitating treatment at a private facility.
On 8 December 2020, the court rejected Wadhawan’s application seeking a shift to a private hospital.
Not willing to give up, the former DHFL promoter then approached the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission (MHRC), which directed that Wadhawan be hospitalised for treatment. On 21 December 2020, he was shifted to J.J. Hospital.
ThePrint has e-mailed the Maharashtra Human Rights Commission asking for details about its recommendations. This report will be updated when a response is received.
‘Covid issue’ enabled private care
After completing his treatment at J.J. Hospital, Wadhawan was sent back to jail, but he was there for only a couple or weeks or so before another health complication is said to have emerged.
This time, he was admitted to the King Edward Memorial (KEM) Hospital, which is run by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC).
“The cardiac department at J.J. was undergoing some renovation at that time and hence he was admitted to KEM,” special CBI prosecutor Venegavkar explained.
Wadhawan remained in KEM Hospital until 1 June 2021, but in the wake of the second wave of Covid appealed yet again for a transfer to a private hospital. This time, his lawyers approached the PMLA (Prevention of Money Laundering Act) court, where separate charges had also been filed against Wadhawan by the Enforcement Directorate (ED).
According to their submission to court, Wadhawan feared for his safety because of the high rate of Covid infection in the country. They cited medical reports from KEM Hospital, which indicated he had pain in his lower abdomen, a feverish feeling, and other symptoms. He also developed acute chest pain with breathlessness and fever with sweating on 19 May 2021, for which he was admitted to the ICU, the medical reports shared with the PMLA court suggested.
In this backdrop, Wadhawan’s lawyers argued, he should be allowed treatment at a private hospital since he could pay for it. Due to the pandemic, the court agreed.
“Normally, the accused cannot choose which hospital he or she wants to get treated at,” Venegavkar told ThePrint. “In this case, it was the pandemic situation… that, ‘ok there is a Covid issue so don’t go to government hospital if you can afford to go to a private hospital’.”
Since 1 June last year, Wadhawan has been camping inside Kokilaben Hospital at his own expense, despite efforts to dislodge him from there.
‘Enjoying crime proceeds by availing of super-specialty medical facility’
In December 2021, when the pandemic had slowed down, the CBI decided that it was time to evaluate whether Wadhawan needed to continue his indefinite hospital stint, Venegavkar said.
“We realised that he has stayed in hospital for many months. We wanted his health evaluated since it was time to end the treatments he needed to take in a private hospital,” he added.
In a submission to a special CBI court, the investigative agency argued that since Wadhawan was not seriously ill or on a ventilator, he should be referred to a state-run hospital for a second opinion.
In March this year, however, Kokilaben Hospital submitted a report to the court that Wadhawan needed nasal septoplasty surgery (to facilitate ease of breathing).
ThePrint has emailed Kokilaben Hospital about its recommendations. This report will be updated if it responds.
The CBI court reacted sharply on 25 March. “Surprisingly, even intimation is not communicated to the court, who is dealing with the proceedings arising out of present FIR,” the CBI said of the PMLA court order permitting Wadhawan to be shifted to a private hospital pending a second opinion from J.J. Hospital.
“What will be the feeling of common man or coinmates of accused Dheeraj Wadhawan?” it asked, and then proceeded to answer: “The feeling… will be that high influential accused can do anything with the aid and assistance of jail authority.”
The court also said that there was “prima facie evidence” that Dheeraj and Kapil Wadhawan were the “prime beneficiaries of crime proceeds” running into “thousands of crores”.
In a reference to Dheeraj Wadhawan, the court noted that he was “enjoying the said crime proceeds by availing super-specialty medical facility, when there is an availability of treatment in premier state-run hospital Sir J.J. Hospital, Mumbai”.
With these searing observations, the CBI court ordered that Wadhawan should be shifted to Taloja Jail and J.J. Hospital should be authorised to give a second opinion on his surgery.
Wadhawan, however, challenged the CBI’s 24 March order in the Bombay High Court, where his counsel, Amit Desai, argued: “The prisoner has a right since it is his body, his life, and his choice where he needs to be treated”.
Seeing merit in this argument, the court underscored that prisoners also have a fundamental right to health, covered under Article 21 — Right to Life — of the Constitution, and ruled that Wadhawan could undergo his nasal surgery and post-operative care at Kokilaben Hospital.
In accordance with the HC order, Wadhawan will be taken for required tests to Kokilaben Hospital on 12 and 13 April, and then eventually admitted there for the surgery and for his recovery, which is likely to take another two weeks.
Speaking to ThePrint, Abad Ponda, one of Wadhawan’s defence lawyers, said that the HC order was “positive”.
“It has set aside the CBI court order that had nullified the PMLA court order,” he said. “Apart from the jurisdiction issues, the grounds were not tenable.”
Within two weeks after the surgery, special public prosecutor Venegavkar added, “Wadhawan should be taken back to Taloja Jail”.
Cases against Dheeraj Wadhawan
According to investigative agencies, Dheeraj Wadhawan and his brother were involved in murky dealings associated with the beleaguered Yes Bank. They allegedly paid kickbacks of Rs 600 crore to firms of Yes Bank founder Rana Kapoor’s family in return for financial assistance to the tune of Rs 3,700 crore.
Soon after the arrest of Rana Kapoor by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the CBI in March 2020, during investigation, the CBI lodged an FIR against Wadhawan under sections 120B (criminal conspiracy) and 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing delivery of property) of the Indian Penal Code, as well as various other provisions under the Prevention of Corruption Act.
Both Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan cited their worries about their health issues and the Covid pandemic to avoid questioning by the ED for as long as they could, but they were finally arrested from a quarantine facility in Mahabaleshwar on 26 April 2020 — nearly two months after they were booked. The brothers were remanded in judicial custody on 10 May 2020 and taken to Taloja Jail in Mumbai.
In July 2020, the ED also filed a chargesheet in the special PMLA court, in which it accused the Wadhawan brothers of providing kickbacks, and money laundering.
The pandemic and resulting lockdowns have meant that progress on these cases has been slow. In August 2020, the magistrate court turned down the accused’s plea for bail. This was challenged in the Bombay High Court, which on 4 November 2020 did not grant them bail either. In January last year, a Mumbai metropolitan court also denied the Wadhawan brothers bail.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)