ED questions Cong leader Ahmed Patel for 4th time in PMLA case

New Delhi: Enforcement Directorate sleuths began the fourth round of questioning of senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel at his official residence here on Thursday in connection with the Sandesara brothers’ bank fraud and money-laundering case, officials said.

A three-member team of the federal probe agency reached the Rajya Sabha MP’s 23, Mother Teresa Crescent residence in the Lutyens’ zone of central Delhi around 11 am.

Patel (70) was last questioned in connection with the case on July 2 for about 10 hours. He had told reporters that the ED investigators had posed 128 questions to him over three sessions.

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“This is political vendetta and harassment against me and my family and I do not know under whose pressure they (investigators) are working,” Patel had said.

The Congress party treasurer has faced ED questioning for about 27 hours till now during sessions held on June 27, June 30 and July 2.

Patel was allowed to be quizzed at home after he refused to visit the Enforcement Directorate (ED) office, citing the prevailing COVID-19 guidelines that discourage senior citizens from going out.

The officials said the Congress leader’s statement is being recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA).

He is being questioned about his purported links with the Sandesara brothers, promoters of the Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech pharmaceutical company, and alleged dealings of his family members with them.

The agency had questioned Patel’s son Faisal and son-in-law Irfan Ahmed Siddiqui in connection with the case and recorded their statements last year.

The two were questioned in the context of the statement of one Sunil Yadav, an employee of the Sandesara group, which was recorded before the agency.

In his statement to the ED, Yadav had said he bore the “expenses of Rs 10 lakh” for a party which was attended by Faisal, “arranged” entry into a night club for him and once delivered “Rs 5 lakh” to his driver in Delhi’s Khan Market on the instructions of Chetan Sandesara, one of the promoters of Sterling Biotech, sources had said.

He had told the agency that the cash was “meant for Faisal Patel”, the sources had said.

The ED was also told by Yadav that Siddiqui “occupied” a house in Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, which reportedly belonged to Chetan Sandesara.

The money-laundering case pertains to the alleged Rs 14,500-crore bank-loan fraud, 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 ED has alleged that this is a bigger bank scam in volume than the Punjab National Bank (PNB) fraud involving fugitive diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi.

The amount involved in the PNB case is pegged at about Rs 13,400 crore.

The Sandesaras are also facing separate probes by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Income-Tax department for their alleged nexus with high-profile politicians and charges of corruption and tax evasion respectively.

At present, the Sandesaras are stated to be based in Albania in Europe. Efforts are on 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 chargesheet 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, and the ED has alleged that the promoters laundered the money using shell or dubious firms.

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