New Delhi | Robert Vadra, the brother-in-law of Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, was Wednesday questioned by Enforcement Directorate (ED) here for about five-and-a half hours in its money laundering probe into alleged possession of illegal foreign assets, days after he was directed by a city court to appear before the central probe agency.
Vadra’s wife Priyanka Gandhi accompanied him in a white Toyota Land Cruiser and dropped him outside the ED’s office in Jamnagar House, a move seen as sending a political message to Congress’s opponents ahead of Lok Sabha polls. Vadra left the office at about 9:40 PM alone in the same car in which Priyanka had dropped him.
His lawyer said Vadra has replied to every question that was put to him. “All charges against him are wrong. We will cooperate with the agency 100 per cent. He will come whenever he is called,” Suman Jyoti Khaitan, his lawyer told the mediapersons waiting outside the ED office. Officials said Vadra has been called again Thursday.
Priyanka, shortly after dropping her husband, took charge as AICC general secretary in-charge of Uttar Pradesh East, after her formal induction into the Congress party on January 23. “He is my husband, he is my family…I support my family,” Priyanka said in a show of support to Vadra, who returned from London earlier in the day.
Priyanka was asked by newsmen at the All India Congress Committee headquarters whether she was sending any message by dropping her husband at the ED office. Asked if it was a political vendetta, she said everyone knows why this is being done.
On the day of Priyanka’s appointment, Vadra had sent an emotional message to her. “Congratulations P… always by your side in every phase of your life. Give it your best,” Vadra said in a Facebook post.
It is for the first time that Vadra, son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi, is appearing before any probe agency in connection with alleged criminal charges of dubious financial dealings.
After wading through a posse of assembled mediapersons, 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. He has alleged he was being “hounded and harassed” to subserve political ends.
Ahead of the questioning by a team of three ED officials, official sources said Vadra was put through a dozen questions on transactions, purchase and possession of certain immovable assets in London and his statement was recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act.?
It is understood he was also grilled about his links with absconding and controversial defence dealer Sanjay Bhandari and Bhandari’s relative Sumit Chhadha in connection with certain emails recovered by agencies linked to the renovation of a London-based property.
Vadra was directed by a Delhi court on February 2 to cooperate with the probe being carried out by ED after he knocked at its door seeking anticipatory bail in the money laundering case. The court directed him to appear before ED on Wednesday on his return from London.
The BJP seized on the questioning of Vadra to attack the Congress and alleged he got kickbacks from a petroleum and defence deals took place during the UPA regime.
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra alleged at a news conference that Vadra bought 8 to 9 properties in London from the money he got as kickbacks from a petroleum and a defence deal which took place in 2008-09. Patra did not provide any evidence to back his claim.
Congress spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi claimed the charges against Vadra are “fickle, superficial, non-existent, non-substantive”. The BJP had full four and a half years to investigate but could not find anything, he claimed at a news conference. The attempt is to mislead, confuse and to create and ambience before election, but people see through this, he said.
The ED case against Vadra relates to allegations of money laundering in the purchase of a London-based property located at 12, Bryanston Square worth 1.9 million GBP (British pounds), which is allegedly owned by him.
The agency had also told the court that it has received information about various new properties in London which belongs to Vadra, including two houses of five and four million each, six other flats and more properties.
The ED had carried out 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 a PMLA case against Arora after his role cropped up during the probe of another case by the Income Tax Department under the 2015 anti-blackmoney legislation against absconding 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, ED had alleged.