NEW DELHI: Eight-year-long investigation into the Rs 3,600-crore AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scam has opened a can of worms and given fresh fodder on how Dassault Aviation had allegedly paid approximately 10 million euros (Rs 100 crore) to a middleman– close to son of then UPA-era minister Santosh Bagrodia’s brother — in India from two Mauritius and Singapore companies to help French-aviation firm build its relationship and get favourable defence deals.
Mauritius-based company Interstellar Technologies Limited and Singapore-based company Interdev Pte Ltd, were used to allegedly park and transfer money to India, the receipts and witness statements of company officials have now revealed.
The fresh documents reveal that the same middlemen who were trying to bring 12 AgustaWestland VVIP choppers, were also eyeing favourable deals for Dassault — the maker of Rafale jets to India.
The middleman accused in this case is Sushen Mohan Gupta.
His relation with then UPA era minister and Congress leader has been revealed by the key statements given by one Dheeraj Aggarwal, the-then manager (accounts) of a Chandigarh-based company IDS Infotech, and Manish Kumar, who worked in the corporate department of OP Khaitan and Company, the law firm of advocate-businessman Gautam Khaitan since 2005 to 2019, before the CBI in the supplementary chargesheet.
The chargesheet runs into 12,421 pages.
In his statement, Aggarwal told the CBI, “On being asked, I state that I knew that Sushen Mohan Gupta S/o Dev Mohan Gupta was relative of Manish Bagrodia Son of Late Satish Bagrodia (brother of MoS for coal Santosh Bagrodia in Congress government). However, I never met him.”
Further, Bagrodia’s brother Satish and his son Manish were directors at IDS Infotech, the company that allegedly entered into a 40 % commisison arrangement with Dassault Aviation.
It is not clear if Bagrodia brothers, including the then MoS, ran influence of then UPA government or defence ministry to get such private agreements for commissions when government deals were already going on.
The New Indian team studied the agreement.
It states that 40 per cent commission of the total contract value with Dassault Aviation was to be paid to the agent in the account of Interstellar Holdings. Lawyer Gautam Khaitan had allegedly structured the agreement for commission as he was attorney of IDS Infotech.
“I confirm that this agreement dated June 1, 2001 for commission bears my initials and signatures of PK Aggarwal, MD, IDS Infotech . It also bears signatures of the authorised signatory of Interstellar Holding Ltd. While we received this agreement as sent by Gautam Khaitan, it was already signed on behalf of Interstellar Holding Ltd. It can be explained by Gautam Khaitan that who had signed on behalf of Interstellar Holding,” a statement by Dheeraj Aggarwal further points out.
The middleman Sushen Gupta had earlier denied all the wrongdoing into the allegations of kickbacks. He was earlier also arrested by the ED in connection with the probe in March 2019 and was released on bail later.
The CBI had earlier separately questioned Bagrodia, former MoS coal minister, in 2013 in connection with its probe into the Coal scam case and his brother Satish in AW chopper scam.
The New Indian has now accessed fresh copies of invoices and statements on the alleged Dassault kickbacks that were sent via Chandigarh-based IDS Infotech allegedly to Mauritius and Singapore based companies.
The reporters of The New Indian — Anand Singh, Rohan Dua and Pramod Kumar Singh — were the first ones to write details of this probe last year in their previous news organisations before they got together to work on the same investigation now.
One of the most clinching statements apart from invoices by Dheeraj Aggarwal is this:
“He (Gautam Khaitan) had asked P K Aggarwal and me to send the payment through banking channels(of IDS Infotech) to Interstellar Holding(in Mauritius),” Aggarwal further states.
The invoices reveal that Rs 4 crore was routed allegedly via Dassault, first to IDS Infotech’s Chandigarh sector 17 bank account and then re-routed to Khaitan’s Interstellar Holding in 2005.
There was no activity between 2006 and 2007.
After a long lull, the fresh trail of bribery began in 2008 by Singapore-based software company Interdev PTE Ltd.
The invoice marked to one Dev Bhalla of Interdev reads, “Towards IT Services and Technical Support for Project awarded to Interdev by Dassult Aviation for creation of CATIA Numeric data vide technical specification.”
The first amount was transferred by Dassault on Sept 16, 2008 worth 3.54 lakh euros (Rs 2.23 crore). The deposits continued like Rs 5 crore in 2009, Rs 7 crore in 2010, Rs 8 crore in 2011, Rs 9 crore in 2012.
Another statement by a witness Manish Kumar states, “The aforesaid 4 fake invoices (between March 1, 2009 to June 1, 2009) were prepared by one Sh Deepak Goyal and he had also signed these invoices (worth on behalf of Interstellar Technologies Pvt Ltd. I identify the signatures made by him on these four invoices.”
In the same statement, he further states, that 9 more invoices were prepared by Deepak Goyal and he had also signed these invoices (between December 29, 2010 to October 11, 2011) on behalf of Interstellar Technologies Pvt. Ltd.
The New Indian also spoke to an independent French journalist Yann Phillipin, who has reported on Dassault payment trails said that kickbacks were routed to India to influence deals for both choppers by Italian firm AgustaWestland and that by French firm Dassault Aviation.
He said, “Gupta received kickbacks in order to influence the result of other defence deals.”
The French journalist further said that a separate investigation should be undertaken by ED on allegations of Dassault bribery.
ED has already claimed that Sushen Gupta held classified documents and sensitive information pertaining to the defence ministry, the Indian Air Force and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
The New Indian investigation also finds that the name of alleged middleman Sushen Gupta appeared first CBI’s 2019 probe after after one retired Army officer Lt Gen (retired) Balraj Thakar made sensational disclosures in his statement to the CBI.
Thakar retired as Southern Army Command chief and later joined DMG Finance and Investment Pvt Ltd for coffee estate management in Kerala and real estate management across India.
In his statement to the CBI , he said that his daughter Nimrata Singh Thakar was settled in New York since 2002-03 and he has been paying her money since 2008 as she requires to look after her children.
“Thakar stated that on one occasion he had requested Sushen Gupta to help him in supporting his daughter financially as he believed him to be benevolent enought to understand the situation of his daughter… As requested, Sushen Gupta transferred approximately $25,000 on three occasions to the bank account of my daughter Nimrata maintained with HSBC,” the CBI said.
Thakar also told the CBI that he believed that this amount would be adjusted in the payments being made to him by Sushen Gupta in lieu of the services rendered by him to the company. “However, till date no amount has been adjusted by Gupta,” he said.
The CBI said Thakar also acknowledged the amount of $25,000 from the bank account of Interstellar Technologies with Barclays Bank Mauritius to the bank account of his daughter on May 28, 2008.
The CBI also said that Thakar said that he was not privy to Interstellar Technologies Ltd and was also not aware of its relations of Gupta with the company.
In a statement issued earlier this year, Sushen Gupta through his legal team stated, “Fabricated, factually incorrect and baseless reports have appeared in a section of the media over the past days reporting factually incorrect statements regarding Gupta and his companies.”
It said that first and foremost, “all allegations, insinuations or claims of any impropriety, irregularity or illegality involving Gupta or companies are vehemently denied and rejected as being false, baseless and mischievous”.
Categorically denying any wrongdoing, the statement read, “Gupta or his companies are not involved in any manner in the Indo-French transaction for acquisition of 36 Rafale jets.”
It further said that it is preposterous to suggest that Gupta has any relevance or can exercise any influence on inter-governmental dealings or transactions and Gupta has never been a commercial agent in relation to defence deals, whether of Dassault or of any other entity.
A separate ED chargesheet has already alleged that kickbacks from AgustaWestland and other deals were placed in the bank accounts of Interstellar Technologies, a company allegedly controlled by Sushen Gupta, and the accounts of Rajiv Saxena, an accused-turned-approver.
(For more stories follow Pramod Kumar Singh on @SinghPramod2784)