London: Absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, who the BJP dragged into the Rafale controversy last week, is living in a plush flat in London’s exclusive Mayfair locality.
Bhandari, considered close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra, had fled the country through Nepal in 2016 following raids at his residence for allegedly possessing classified information on India’s defence purchases.
He was later charged under the Official Secrets Act.
Security agencies believe that the elusive arms dealer has gone into “hiding” but ThePrint traced him to an upscale property close to the famous Berkeley Square.
The property is registered in the name of a Panamanian company and Bhandari too allegedly owns a company registered in Panama, a tax haven. The links between the two companies could, however, not be confirmed immediately.
When ThePrint visited the property last week, an Indian-origin woman there confirmed that Bhandari was associated with the flat.
“He is not available at the moment. I cannot tell you more as I just work here,” she said.
A porter working in the building too confirmed that Bhandari lived there. “He is there but is currently travelling.”
Flat owned by Panamanian firm
The UK Land registry records show that the property — Flat number 6, Grosvenor Hill Court — is owned by a Panamanian company, Shamlan Gross-1 Inc. It is, however, not clear who the beneficial owner of the company is.
The property, a three-bedroom flat in the heart of Mayfair, has an estimated value of around £2.3 million (Rs 21.7 crore), according to UK property website Zoopla.
The registry records show that the property was bought from General Hashim Said Hashim, a former head of the Saudi Arabian Air Force, in 2006 for £900,000 (Rs 8.6 crore).
“If Bhandari is staying in the flat and if it is officially registered in the name of a Panamanian company, then there is a possibility that it is a shell company, which was floated to buy the flat,” an Indian official source said.
“He could have bought the house through one of his connections in the Saudi Arabian Air Force in his capacity as a defence consultant,” the source added.
Although Bhandari’s company, Offset India Solutions, was formed in 2008, investigators believe he had been networking in the arms sector for several years before he set up the firm.
The former head of the Saudi Arabian Air Force in question had also been involved in a bribery scandal.
Records show Hong Kong brothers are ‘lenders’
The UK land registry records also list a Hong Kong-based company, Saturn International Limited, as a “lender” to the property.
The company is owned by Mitesh and Manoj Jain, Hong Kong-based brothers who were allegedly involved in a duty scam in India in 2014.
The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence had back then accused the duo of undervaluing around 3,673 goods imported from China, to evade customs duty.
The elusive arms dealer
Bhandari’s company, Offset India Solutions, was allegedly involved in executing offset contracts for several foreign military contractors.
The Delhi Police had registered an FIR against Bhandari in October 2016 after classified documents were recovered from his home and office during raids. A month later, the CBI registered a preliminary enquiry against Bhandari and his partner Bimal Sareen for their alleged role in the Pilatus PC-7 basic trainer aircraft deal.
Last Monday, the BJP alleged that Bhandari had a role in the Rafale controversy. Union Minister Gajendra Singh Shekhawat alleged that the Congress president’s attack on the Rafale deal was meant to get it cancelled since his “brother-in-law and friend… have been denied brokerage”.
He alleged that Bhandari used Vadra to compromise the nation’s defence to earn profits.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra too alleged that under the Congress-led UPA administration, Bhandari “extended favours” to Vadra in a bid to get the offset contract with Dassault Aviation.
The defence ministry in January passed an order suspending business dealings with Offset India Solutions.