Enforcement Directorate questions Ahmed Patel
The Enforcement Directorate on Saturday questioned Congress leader and MP Ahmed Patel in connection with a money-laundering case involving Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech Limited.
The Congress alleged a witch-hunt and said it would not stop questioning the government on the reported Chinese incursions in eastern Ladakh, no matter whether it unleashed the ED or other agencies on party leaders.
Patel is perceived as close to Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, who have been persistently questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the border standoff.
Sources in the ED said Patel had earlier told the agency that the coronavirus epidemic made it inadvisable for him to appear for questioning, given his age and health.
“He is over 65 years. He was questioned at his home in Delhi in keeping with Covid-19 guidelines. His statement has been recorded under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act,” an agency official said.
Patel, a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, is Congress treasurer and a former political secretary to Sonia.
Last August, the ED had questioned Patel’s son Faisal Patel and son-in-law Irfan Siddique in the same case, alleging they had links with Sterling Biotech.
The company and its main promoters — Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Sandesara and Deepti Sandesara — are accused of bank-loan fraud and money-laundering. The trio have been declared absconders and are said to be in Nigeria.
Opposition parties have long been accusing the Modi government of letting loose investigating agencies on their leaders to intimidate or settle scores with them.
Among Congress politicians whom the CBI and the ED have raided or arrested in corruption cases over the past one year are former Union minister P. Chidambaram and Karnataka strongman D.K. Shivakumar.
Shivakumar had overseen the herding of 44 Gujarat MLAs in Karnataka to prevent poaching by the BJP ahead of a Rajya Sabha election that Patel eventually won.
The ED’s case is based on an FIR registered by the CBI in October 2017. The FIR alleges that Sterling Biotech received more than Rs 5,000 crore in loans from a consortium led by Andhra Bank but the sum turned into a non-performing asset.
Several bureaucrats, including senior IT department officials, are also under the scanner of the ED, which suspects that “some of the diverted loan funds were also paid to public servants”.
The FIR alleges that the “siphoned-off loan funds were used to buy properties in the names of various companies to purchase shares of Sterling Biotech Ltd and Sterling International Enterprises Ltd to attract market fancy and project a healthy picture of the companies”.
The CBI had registered a separate case against Sterling Biotech accusing it of bribing three income-tax officials in connection with a tax raid in 2011.
The three names purportedly figured in a diary seized from the company premises that also contained details of alleged payments to some officials and politicians from Gujarat and Delhi.
The name of Rakesh Asthana, a Gujarat-cadre IPS officer considered close to Modi, figured in the diary.