Explained: Why Robert Vadra is being grilled by ED
The ED summoned the businessman for the third time in a week, on February 9.
Robert Vadra is in the news again.
The businessman and brother-in-law of Congress chief Rahul Gandhi was called for questioning by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in New Delhi, in connection with a money laundering case, on February 9. This was the third time ED had summoned him in a week, having questioned him on February 6 and 7 as well.
So what is the case against Vadra? Are there other such cases? And, more importantly, is there any significance in the timing of the summons?
Case behind the summons
Vadra is currently being questioned about a case that relates to the purchase of a property in London. ED filed a money laundering case against him in 2018, alleging that he owns property worth 1.9 million pounds, which was used to launder money. The property in question is 12, Bryanstone Square that the agency believes was bought by Vadra using laundered money. They have also linked him to two other properties in London, worth a combined estimated total of nine million pounds.
According to reports, ED has found documents linking Vadra to the property and controversial arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. Bhandari is presently wanted in other corruption cases related to defence deals. He is absconding. ED alleges that the property was first bought by Bhandari and then sold to Vadra at the same price, despite Bhandari having to incur an additional cost of 65,900 pounds in renovations, with the implication being that this was a kickback.
Other major cases against Vadra
This is not the only case against Vadra. In 2015, ED had registered a case against a firm owned by him called Sky Light Hospitality for allegedly acquiring land meant for the rehabilitation of poor villagers in Kolayat in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district. He is set to make an appearance before ED in Jaipur on February 12, for questioning in this case.
The agency alleged that the firm bought 69.55 hectares of land at a reduced rate before flipping it to a company called Allegenery Finlease, for Rs 5.15 crore, paid by illegal means. According to ED, that company is fake.
Another corruption case Vadra is accused of relates to alleged kickbacks in a petroleum deal struck in 2008. ED had initially claimed that Vadra had bought the properties in London from the proceeds he had received from the kickbacks.
Vadra is also suspected of being involved in the process of illegal kickbacks in the Rs 3,700 crore AugustaWestland VIP chopper deal. Following the extradition of the alleged middleman who brokered the deal, Christian James Michael, ED raided three people linked to him on December 7, 2018.
All the allegations against him are yet to be proven.
The question of timing
Vadra, on his part, has maintained he is innocent. He claims all these cases are a result of a witch-hunt against him, which is politically motivated. So far, he has denied knowing, or having any dealings with Bhandari. He alleges that he is being hounded and harassed to serve political ends.
These claims have some credence as the issue has been raked up time and again by the Bharatiya Janata Party to attack Congress and paint the party as corrupt. Furthermore, the rhetoric gets shriller come elections. This time around, the Lok Sabha elections are due in less than 100 days.
Congress, on its part, has also maintained that these cases are being used against it by BJP for political means. Rahul Gandhi, during a press conference on February 9, had also questioned the BJP government’s eagerness to prosecute Vadra while being reluctant to probe corruption allegations against the Prime Minister's Office in the Rafale deal.
Furthermore, his sister and Congress leader, Priyanka Gandhi, accompanied Vadra to the ED office on February 7, where he was grilled for nine hours straight. This was her first appearance since joining active politics.