New Delhi: Sanjay Bhandari, a defence dealer being investigated for allegedly buying a benami or proxy-owned house for Robert Vadra in London, and Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju's top aide Appa Rao, exchanged 355 phone calls over the last one year, according to documents collected in raids last month on Mr Bhandari.
- Gajapathi Raju's aide denies exchanging 355 calls with Sanjay Bhandari
- Aide Appa Rao says aviation minister met arms dealer only professionally
- Dealer is being probed for allegedly buying benami house for Robert Vadra
Appa Rao, who is officer on special duty or OSD to the minister, denied that Mr Bhandari had made hundreds of calls to him; they were so few that he could not recall an exact number, Mr Rao said.
The aide also said that Mr Bhandari visited the minister at his office "three or four times" and that Mr Raju met Mr Bhandari as the latter was in the business of procuring aircraft parts. The minister, who is from the Telugu Desam Party, an ally of the BJP, first met Mr Bhandari about one and half years ago at an air show in Bangalore, Mr Rao said.
Yesterday, BJP leader Sidharth Nath Singh said that while it is correct that the arms dealer and he have been in close touch, their ties are personal and not professional. "It's a social relationship and friendship, certainly not a business relationship. Since the Congress has asked for an investigation into this, I must say that I have absolutely no issues with it. Please go ahead and carry out an investigation... I have nothing to hide," Mr Singh told NDTV.
The Congress, whose chief Sonia Gandhi is the mother-in-law of Mr Vadra, has said that while accusing its First Family of corruption, the BJP is conveniently overlooking its own explicit links to Mr Bhandari.
18 properties owned or linked to Mr Bhandari were raided last month by investigators who allege he has committed a variety of financial crimes. As reported first on Monday by NDTV, emails they claim to have accessed from his computers and phone allegedly show that Mr Vadra and his executive assistant, Manoj Arora, sent messages which promised to arrange payments and discussed the interiors of a house in central London. The mails were sent to Sumit Chadda, a relative of Mr Bhandari based in London.
Investigators believe the house was bought in 2009 and sold a year later by a shell firm for Mr Bhandari. His lawyers have not responded to NDTV's request for comment.
Mr Vadra's lawyers have denied that he directly or indirectly owned the property and have said he has no association with Mr Bhandari. However, they have not responded to an NDTV query asking for comment on whether the emails are authentic.
After the BJP government took office, an Intelligence Bureau report warned against Mr Bhandari's allegedly dodgy dealings, and suggested that the Defence Ministry deny him any access. For a man red-circled as best avoided, Mr Bhandari seems to have enjoyed easy access to politicians.
This week, the arms dealer has skipped three summons for interrogation, stating that he is unwell.
The government has reportedly expanded its investigation against him to Dubai and the British Virgin Islands in pursuit of shell companies allegedly used by him to buy the London house and two properties in Dubai worth about 25 crores.