Companies owned by fugitive arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari, who fled India in 2016 and whose name recently cropped up in the Rafale case, are still operating in India without any restrictions.

Earlier in January this year, a Delhi trial court had declared Bhandari an “absconder” from law after he refused to appear before the court, which had issued a non-bailable warrant against him in February 2017, months after it emerged that he had fled India. The said order, however, was quashed by the Delhi High Court in July 2018. The court said that “the order declaring the petitioner (Bhandari) as a proclaimed offender is not sustainable and is accordingly quashed to the said extent. However, this would not affect the status of the petitioner as a proclaimed person and would be without prejudice to the action initiated against the petitioner for failure to appear in terms of the proclamation issued.” Bhandari was represented in court by senior Congress leader and lawyer Kapil Sibal. The non-bailable warrant still continues to be active against Bhandari.

As per the latest data on the website of Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Bhandari is the director of 14 active companies: OIS (Offset India Solutions Private Limited); Aerospace Private Limited; Santech Petro Global Private Limited; OIS Transport Technologies Private Limited; Santech Infrastructure Private Limited; Himalayan Helicorp Private Limited; Santech Investments Private Limited; Santech IT Services Private Limited; Avaana Software and Services Private Limited; Santech Energy System and Services Private Limited; OIS Advanced Technology Private Limited; Eclat Global Consultancy Private Limited; SB Hospitality and Services Private Limited; and Micromet ATI India Private Limited. All but three of these companies also have Sonia, his wife, as a director.

Incidentally, as per official sources, it was two of these 14 companies, Offset India Solutions Private Limited and Avaana Software and Services Private Limited, which had first come under the radar of the officials for allegedly indulging in tax evasion.

As per the data available with the Ministry, the last annual general meeting (AGM) of all these companies was held on the same day, 30 September 2017.

OIS and Bhandari have been in the news after it emerged that OIS had tried to become the offsets partner in India for Dassault Aviation, the French manufacturer of Rafale fighter jets.

Bhandari, who set up OIS in 2008, is known for his close proximity to certain political leaders and their close relatives who were in power during the time he had set up his company.

Sources said that Bhandari, because of his close contacts with these people, had emerged among foreign individuals and organisations as one of the most sought-after businessmen during the time of UPA-I and UPA-II governments. He acted as a liaison between them and government officials and ministers.

Bhandari was raided by the Income-Tax Department in April 2016, following which confidential Ministry of Defence documents related to purchases and proposals that were placed before the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) were found in his possession. However, despite a lookout notice issued against him and being booked under the Official Secrets Act, he managed to flee India, allegedly after receiving help from the same officials who were supposed to stop him.

Bhandari used to have the phone numbers of top journalists on his speed dial, and used his connection with them to enhance his profile. These journalists wrote about him and his company favourably and were “looked after” in return, official sources revealed.

Emails sent to Bhandari on the various email ids that are registered in his companies’ names did not elicit any response.

During the 51st International Air Show that was held in Paris in 2015, Bhandari through his company OIS Aerospace, entered into two joint ventures with Rafaut, an aeronautics and armaments company and LH Aviation of France for manufacturing advanced weapons-to-aircraft interface devices and multi-sensor tactical UAVs. And this even though he did not have any set-up in India to manufacture these devices, official sources allege. This was at a time when Bhandari had become a well known name in Indian intelligence circles, with inquiries being conducted against him by multiple agencies.

As per reports filed by a reputed news agency and carried very prominently by a business newspaper, the first JV with Rafaut was to make “pile-ons” for fighter aircraft to carry weapons, while the second JV with LH Aviation, a French aircraft manufacturer, was to set up a separate manufacturing plant in India for multi-sensor tactical UAV fighter aircraft that can fly up to 24 hours.

While announcing this JV, Bhandari had said that he was entering into this JV to join the “Make in India” initiative of the government, while the then president of LH Aviation, Sebastien Lefebvre had said that his company had decided to join hands with OIS as it was a “credible industrial partner”.

The said company, OIS Aerospace, which was registered in London, was dissolved within hours of Bhandari being subjected to interrogation by I-T officials in Delhi in 2016. However, people who claim to know Bhandari deny any wrongdoing in his companies.

Experts told The Sunday Guardian, that in case of a director facing legal repercussions, he can be removed by shareholders. “The shareholders can pass a resolution by a simple majority in accordance with Companies Act and remove the director. Also since the shareholder resolution will take some time, in the interim, the board can pass a resolution rolling back his powers to take any action or sign documents on behalf of the company,” said Siddharth Srivastava, Partner, Link Legal, New Delhi.

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