New Delhi: Enforcement Directorate (ED) investigators on Thursday questioned senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel at his residence for about 10 hours during the third round of his grilling in connection with the Sandesara brothers bank fraud and money laundering case probe, officials said.
A three-member team of the central agency along with a few other officials reached Patel’s 23, Mother Teresa Crescent home in the Lutyens’ zone of central Delhi around 11:30 am and left after 10 pm.
The team members carried files, wore masks and gloves and were seen sanitising their hands and shoes before beginning the questioning as a precautionary measure in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
Patel, while speaking to reporters outside his house, said the investigators put 128 questions to him.
“This is a political vendetta and harrasment against me and my family and I do not know under whose pressure they (investigators) are working,” he said.
They (ED) told me that my questioning has completed but I say that you can question me for as many days as you want, he said.
He claimed that the agency is working on hearsay and that they have no no solid evidence and that there was no money trail.
Agency sleuths have earlier questioned Patel, 70, in two separate sessions clocking about 17 hours in total on June 27 and June 30.
He was allowed questioning at home by the agency after the Congress Rajya Sabha MP from Gujarat refused to visit the ED office citing prevailing COVID-19 guidelines that discourage senior citizens from going out.
Officials said Patel’s statement is being recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) during the latest session.
He is being questioned about his purported links with Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech pharmaceutical company promoters, the Sandesara brothers, and alleged dealings of his family members with them.
The agency, last year, had questioned Patel’s son Faisal Patel and son-in-law Irfan Ahmed Siddiqui in this case and recorded their statements.
The two were questioned in the context of the statement of one Sunil Yadav, an employee of the Sandesara group, which was earlier recorded before the agency.
In his statement to the ED, Yadav had said that he bore “expenses of Rs 10 lakh” for a party which was attended by Faisal, “arranged” entry in a night club for him and once delivered “Rs 5 lakh” to his driver in Khan Market on the instructions of Chetan Sandesara, one of the promoters of the pharma firm, sources had said.
Yadav had told the ED that the cash was “meant for Faisal Patel”, the sources said.
The agency was also told by Yadav that Siddiqui “occupied” a house in Vasant Vihar area of Delhi that reportedly belonged to Chetan Sandesara.
This money laundering case pertains to the alleged Rs 14,500 crore bank loan fraud that is said to have been perpetrated by Sterling Biotech and its main promoters and directors — Nitin Jayantilal Sandesara, Chetankumar Jayantilal Sandesara and Deepti Sandesara — all of whom are absconding. Nitin and Chetankumar are brothers.
The agency has alleged that this is a bigger bank scam in volume than the PNB fraud involving diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.
The total fraud amount pegged in the PNB case is about Rs 13,400 crore.
The Sandesaras are also facing separate probes by the CBI and the Income Tax Department for their alleged nexus with some high-profile politicians and charges of corruption and tax evasion, respectively.
At present, they are stated to be based in Albania, from where India is trying to extradite them.
The ED registered a criminal case in connection with the alleged bank loan fraud on the basis of an FIR and a charge sheet filed by the CBI.
It is alleged that the company took loans of over Rs 5,383 crore from a domestic consortium led by the Andhra Bank, which later turned into non-performing assets.
Patel, while speaking to reporters on Saturday, had said he replied to the questions that the “guests” of the government posed to him.
“I am surprised that instead of fighting China…coronavirus and unemployment, the government is fighting the opposition,” he had said.
The law should be allowed to take its course and someone who has not done any wrong should not fear, Patel had said.
He had accused the government of “using probe agencies every time it faced a crisis or when there was an election”.