At Westminster magistrates’ court, district judge Michal Snow said on Monday he was satisfied with the assurances from the Indian government about the conditions Bhandari would be held in Tihar Jail and sent the case to UK home secretary Suella Braverman to make a final decision.
Bhandari can now make representations to the home secretary as to why he should not be extradited. If she goes ahead and orders it, which is likely, he can apply for permission to appeal the judgment in the high court.
UK court’s order allowing Enforcement Directorate ‘ plea for the extradition of fugitive arms dealer has come as boost to the investigating agencies while putting the spotlight again on the alleged payoffs in the defence deals under UPA.
Bhandari faces multiple cases from Indian enforcement agencies for his alleged role in defence contracts, including transfer of Rs 310 crore which the agencies suspect to be a payoff for the Pilatus aircraft deal negotiated under UPA . Although Bhandari can challenge, just like Nirav Modi, the extradition order in High Court, the agencies here derive satisfaction from the fact that foreign courts have appreciated the strength of the cases which many have dubbed as politically motivated. The ED, which has separately initiated a money laundering investigation in the 75 aircraft deal signed with Swiss company Pilatus in 2009-10, has traced kickbacks of Rs 310 crore that came into the accounts of Bhandari’s Dubai firm Offset India Solutions FZC. The ‘proceeds of crime’ have been allegedly used to purchase properties in Dubai and London.
“Investigation revealed that Sanjay Bhandari had acquired assets worth more than Rs 150 crore outside India in contravention of foreign exchange rules,” the ED had earlier claimed. The agency has already attached his properties worth over Rs 26 crore in India and also filed a chargesheet against him. His extradition case was pending in the UK court since 2020 when he was allowed bail, soon after his arrest since the Indian courts had till then not taken cognisance of any chargesheet against the fugitive arms dealer, a prime condition for deportation of an accused.
Bhandari fled the country in 2016 after the income tax carried out searches at his premises in an alleged tax evasion case. This was followed by the Delhi Police registering a case under the Official Secrets Act when classified defence documents were seized from his premises. The fugitive arms dealer had a number of companies incorporated in the UAE to receive ‘commission’ for facilitating defence deals with Indian authorities. Offset India Solution FZC, Santech International FZC, Serra Dues Technologies, Petro Global Technologies FZC are some of them, according to probe reports.
Among his several overseas acquisition, one flat in Palms Jumeirah, Dubai and two apartments in London — Grosvenor Hill Court at Bourdon street and Ellerton House at Bryanston Square — came under the scanner of Indian agencies after their links surfaced with Robert Vadra, son-in-law of former Congress president Sonia Gandhi. Vadra has already been questioned multiple times in connection with the London flats with the ED and I-T suspecting they are beneficially owned by him.
Last year, Bhandari surprised everyone when he filed a case in a French court seeking the balance payment of his commission from Thales that upgraded the weapon system for India’s Mirage deal in 2011. He claimed that only Rs 75 crore of his ‘consultancy fee’ was paid from an agreed Euro 20 million (around Rs 165 crore). He named UHY Saxena, a company where money was to be transferred. UHY Saxena is a company where ‘proceeds of crime’ from another defence deal, AgustaWestland, had allegedly travelled.