New Delhi: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) on Wednesday questioned Robert Vadra in connection with a money laundering probe into his alleged possession of illegal foreign assets. The development comes days after his wife Priyanka Gandhi-Vadra was formally inducted into the Indian National Congress.
In a move seen as sending a political message ahead of Lok Sabha polls, Priyanka, sister of INC president Rahul Gandhi, accompanied her husband in a white Toyota Land Cruiser along with SPG personnel in tow, and dropped him outside the probe agency’s office in Jamnagar House in central Delhi.
Shortly thereafter, Priyanka assumed charge as the AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East. She had been named for the post on 23 January.
“I stand by my family,” said Priyanka in response to a query about her husband being questioned by the ED.
Vadra facing a probe agency for the first time
It is for the first time that Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, is appearing before any probe agency in connection with alleged criminal charges of dubious financial dealings.
After jostling with a posse of assembled media persons, Robert Vadra entered the ED office at around 3:47 PM, minutes after a team of his lawyers reached the premises. He then signed the attendance register before being taken in for questioning.
Vadra has denied allegations of possessing illegal foreign assets and termed them a political witch hunt against him. Vadra has alleged he was being “hounded and harassed” to sub-serve political ends.
BJP pounces on opportunity
The BJP seized on the questioning of Vadra to attack the Congress and allege he got kickbacks from petroleum and defence deals during the UPA regime.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged at a news conference that Vadra bought eight or nine properties in London from the money he got as kickbacks from a petroleum and a defence deal which took place in 2008-09 when the UPA was in power.
Patra did not provide any evidence to back his claim.
Vadra was directed by a Delhi court to cooperate with the investigation being carried out by the ED after he knocked at its door seeking anticipatory bail in the money laundering case.
The court had asked him to appear before the ED on Wednesday on his return from London.
Charges against Vadra
Official sources said Vadra was put through a dozen questions by a team of three ED officials on transactions, purchase and possession of certain immovable assets in London and his statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).
The case relates to allegations of money laundering in the purchase of a London-based property located at 12 Bryanston Square worth £ 1.9 million (British pound-sterling), which is allegedly owned by Vadra.
The agency had told the court that it has received information about various new properties in London which allegedly belongs to Vadra.
A local Congress leader Jagdish Sharma, questioned by the ED in this case few weeks ago, was present outside the agency’s office after Vadra went in. Talking to newsmen, Sharma alleged that Vadra was being “framed” in the case.
The ED had conducted raids in the case in December last year and grilled his aide Manoj Arora, an employee of a firm linked to Vadra, Skylight Hospitality LLP.
The agency had told the court that it filed the money laundering case against Arora after his role cropped up during the probe of another case by the Income Tax Department under the 2015 anti-black money legislation against absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari.
It had alleged that the London-based property was bought by Bhandari for 1.9 million GBP and sold in 2010 for the same amount despite incurring additional expenses of approximately 65,900 GBP on its renovation.
“This gives credence to the fact that Bhandari was not the actual owner of the property but it was beneficially owned by Vadra who was incurring expenditure on the renovation of this property,” the ED had claimed before the court.
Arora was a key person in the case and he was aware of Vadra’s overseas undeclared assets and was instrumental in arranging funds, the ED had alleged.
The Rajasthan High Court had directed Vadra to appear before the ED, too, on 12 February in connection with another money laundering case being probed by the agency.