Sandesara probe: UPA government officials, bankers under lens

NEW DELHI: Investigative agencies are examining whether top government officials in the UPA-II regime and banks facilitated Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech, owned by the Sandesara family, commit a fraud.

Although the Reserve Bank of India declared it a “wilful defaulter” in 2012, the Sandesara Group raised over $80 million (Rs 589 crore) from abroad, people with knowledge of the matter told ET.

“Raising such a significant amount of money — even after having been declared a wilful defaulter — without the connivance of government officials is unlikely,” one of the people said.

Nitin Sandesara, managing director of Sterling Biotech, is wanted by the Central Bureau of Investigation and the Enforcement Directorate in a Rs 5,000-crore bank fraud case. The Sandesara family is said to have fled to Nigeria, where they have invested in crude oil production.

ED is all set to file a chargesheet against the Sandesara family, the first against them under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), sources told ET. The agency has gathered evidence to establish how the Sandesaras allegedly routed money with the help of shell companies in India and abroad.
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The agencies are keeping a close watch on the Sandesara family, suspecting that they are trying to settle the loans with banks. Sandesara and his family, including brother Chetan and sister-in-law Diptiben Sandesara, are in Nigeria, according to the investigative agencies. India does not have an extradition treaty with Nigeria.

This makes it tougher for the authorities to bring the family back to the country. The Sandesara family has developed strong political connections in Nigeria, thanks to their significant investments in the African country, the people said. The chargesheet follows a case registered by the ED under PMLA against Nitin and Chetan Sandesara, Sterling Biotech and others on October 27 last year, two days after the CBI filed a case of alleged bank fraud of Rs 5,000 crore against them.

Loans to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore were disbursed by various banks between 2004 and 2012, when the United Progressive Alliance led by the Congress party was in power, and they turned into non-performing assets. The agency has attached properties worth over Rs 4,700 crore in connection with the alleged fraud and is looking for more proceeds of crime. The ED and the CBI have booked the company directors Nitin and Chetan Sandesara, Rajbhushan Dixit and Vilas Joshi, chartered accountant Hemant Hathi, former Andhra Bank director Anup Garg and some unidentified people in connection with the alleged bank fraud. As per the FIR, the total pending dues of the Sandesara group of companies were Rs 5,383 crore as of December 31, 2016. The ED has taken cognisance of this FIR to file its PMLA case.

Source: Economic Times