The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has got fresh leads in the AgustaWestland helicopter scam, which shook the corridors of power in India and Italy during the UPA regime. Consequently, The Sunday Guardian has been able to connect the dots of the money trail that was used to route the kickbacks to the beneficiaries of the scam.
The fresh leads have revealed that Gautam Khaitan, the high-profile Delhi lawyer who was arrested in 2014 for allegedly laundering the bribe money in the case but is out on bail now, allegedly played a larger role in routing the kickbacks. This newspaper found out that he was the director of KRBL Ltd, a company which is being probed for money laundering in the case. But within a few months of the scandal becoming public with the arrest of Giuseppe Orsi, CEO of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, Khaitan terminated his directorship in KRBL. The arrest took place on 12 February 2013 and Khaitan left KRBL on 18 April.
The ED sleuths have been able to retrieve two emails from the hard disk of Khaitan’s office computer, which has led the agency to concrete leads in its probe into the scam. The agency has managed to crack the tainted helicopter deal’s kickbacks-link between Mauritius and Dubai. The agency is now probing the role of a UAE sheikh and a defence dealer wanted in other cases as well.
The two emails dated 6 and 23 October 2008 between Khaitan’s employee Deepak Goyal and his Mauritius-based financial services agents ML Administrators, reveal that Interstellar Technologies, a Mauritius-based company allegedly controlled by Khaitan, paid $275,000 to the Dubai-based Rawasi Al Khaleej General Trading (RAKGT).
The ED document accessed by this newspaper says, “funds to the tune of Rs 110 crores have been received by M/S RAKGT from various companies.” The ED lists more than 13 companies, out of which at least two, Interstellar and Windsor Group Holdings were allegedly associated with Khaitan. The ED alleges that the money was placed in the ledger account of Sheikh Omar Ali Balsharaf based in the United Arab Emirates. The money was allegedly routed through a UBS Singapore bank account held by Windsor Group Holdings and subsequently ended up in RAKGT’s account. Sheikh Omar Ali Balsharaf was also associated with RAKGT.
Sources said ED officials are of the view that the kickbacks in AgustaWestland scam were parked in these accounts for onward distribution among the people who played a role to materialise the more than Rs 3,000-crore deal. Names of several politicians and bureaucrats had surfaced in the probe by both Indian and Italian agencies. Former Air Force Chief S.P. Tyagi was arrested in the scam. He is out on bail.
ED had asked Balsharaf to join the probe. He, in turn, had promised that he would send another brother, Mohammed Balsharaf to India with all the necessary information. But that has not happened so far. Apparently, another crucial link has been established in this chain. A person called Anurag Potdar was in close links with the sheikh. They were associates in a company which was incorporated by an Indian company.
ED searches at the offices of SMC Global Securities in Delhi were in connection with the demat accounts of the sheikh and his brother, Abdullah Ali Balsharaf. The agency seized several documents from SMC Global’s offices as it was dealing in the brothers’ share trading. Investigations reveal that Balsharaf was allegedly trading shares of the Indian company KRBL through these demat accounts.
However, speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Ashok Kumar Agarwal, vice-president of SMC Global, claimed that the company did not play any role in the AgustaWestland scam. It was only dealing with Balsharaf’s demat account for the shares he had acquired way back in 2003, Agarwal sought to clarify, adding that due diligence was adopted before making the sheikh their client.
This correspondent tried to speak to Balsharaf over phone, but he did not take the calls. ED’s contention is that Balsharaf’s share trading business may be legal, but he needs to explain the money he got from various companies into his Dubai account. Similarly, this newspaper approached Gautam Khaitan’s office for his version, but his staff said that he was “travelling in a foreign country”. Speaking to this correspondent, Khaitan’s lawyer Pramod Kumar Dubey said the allegations against his client did not have any substance.
The ED document accessed by this newspaper says that RAKGT was incorporated in 2007 by KRBL DMCC, Dubai, which itself was incorporated in 2006 as a 100% subsidiary of KRBL Ltd, India. In 2009, the entire stake of KRBL DMCC held in RAKGT was transferred to Potdar, the nephew of the promoters of KRBL Ltd, according to the ED.
Potdar, who happens to be a mystery character in these suspicious transactions, have not joined the probe as yet. ED sources said that non-bailable warrants have been issued against him in other cases. One thing is clear that the Italian courts may have acquitted the accused in their case but the Indian agencies, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the ED that are running a parallel probe, are closing in on the money trail.
Sources said ED has also recorded the statements of Anoop Gupta and Anil Mittal, the two managing directors of KRBL. Both of them have told the agency that KRBL has taken a loan from Omar Balsharaf, which had been returned to him. However, the agency is not convinced since the top company officials could not provide relevant documents to support their version.
ED sleuths are relying heavily on the new leads to reach to a logical conclusion in this case.