Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Indian ‘arms dealer’ on CBI radar held in UK in bribe case

New Delhi: Alleged arms dealer Sudhir Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested in the UK on Wednesday for their alleged involvement in a bribery scandal involving Rolls-Royce company.

According to preliminary information, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) of the UK is investigating allegations that Rolls-Royce, which makes aircraft engines and turbines, paid bribes in China and Indonesia to secure contracts, and that Choudhrie was the intermediary for the payments.

The SFO had on December 23 confirmed that its director had opened a criminal investigation into allegations of bribery and corruption at Rolls-Royce. The investigation took a dramatic turn on Wednesday with the arrest of Choudhrie and his son.

Choudhrie has figured in several major defence scandals in India, and was named in at least two FIRs filed by the CBI, and also in its list of about two dozen “undesirable contact men”, who are suspected of manipulating government contracts. Both the FIRs were closed by the CBI saying it had found no concrete evidence to take forward the case.

Choudhrie’s name has also figured in documents filed by Italian investigators into the VVIP helicopter scandal, in which former IAF chief S P Tyagi and his cousins are among those accused of taking bribes to clear the 2010 deal. In documents before courts, senior Finmeccanica executives have claimed that Choudhrie was their middleman for past arms deals in India, before they brought in new agents.

Choudhrie is also a major donor to the UK Liberal Democrat party, and was until recently among the probables to become a member of UK’s House of Lords.

British media reports said Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested on Wednesday. A spokesman for the Choudhries told local media the duo denied all wrongdoing, and were fully cooperating with the investigation. The father-son duo was granted bail without conditions after being questioned for several hours.

Charges that Rolls-Royce paid bribes first emerged almost a year ago when a former employee of the company raised the allegation.

Choudhrie and his family have been living in Chelsea in London almost permanently since 2006, when he was named in CBI FIRs in India. He has at least one farm house and another independent house in Sunder Nagar in Delhi. Over the years, the Choudhries have built up a sprawling legitimate business in the UK, India and elsewhere.

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