ED arrests RJD MP Amarendra Dhari Singh in money laundering case linked to fertiliser 'scam'

NEW DELHI: The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has arrested RJD MP Amarendra Dhari Singh in connection with a money laundering case linked to an alleged fertiliser scam and payment of kickbacks to the tune of Rs 685 crore, officials said on Thursday.

The 61-year-old Rajya Sabha member and businessman was arrested under sections of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) from his residence in the Defence Colony area here on Wednesday night, the officials said.

A search was also carried out at his premises and the agency alleged that as he “deliberately evaded replies and was absolutely uncooperative”, he was arrested.

He was sent to 10 days ED custody by the court of special judge Dig Vinay Singh and he will now again be produced before it on June 13.

The case relates to alleged illegal commissions worth over Rs 685 crore allegedly given to the NRI sons of IFFCO Managing Director and CEO U S Awasthi and Indian Potash Ltd (IPL) Managing Director P S Gahlaut as well as others by overseas suppliers from 2007-14.

This was done through transactions facilitated by AgustaWestland VVIP choppers deal case accused Rajiv Saxena, officials said.

Dhari, who was sent to the Rajya Sabha by the Bihar-based party in March last year, is stated to be the senior vice president of a Dubai-based firm, Jyoti Trading Corporation, involved in the case, officials said.

The ED case was filed after officials studied an FIR from the Central Bureau of Investigation, which raided at least a dozen locations last month in the matter.

The ED claimed that during the “commissioning of this crime, sham consultancy agreements were made as also fake invoices for consultancy services, without providing any such services and thus commission was received from group companies of Saxena without any genuine transaction and that money was actually illegal commission generated out of import of fertilisers and raw material.”

It claimed that the MP “acted as an intermediary along with other accused for channelising the ill-gotten money through different companies”.

The agency said some firms allegedly linked to the MP like Lake Village Assets Corp and Summerpark Cor. are under its scanner.

While the defence counsel, during the court hearing, said the MP was suffering from lymphatic cancer and has to regularly travel to the US for treatment, the court said that cases filed under the PMLA are “indeed serious economic offences” and the arrest is “justified” as the accused can tamper with the evidence, more so, when he is an “influential person”.

“The apprehension of investigating agency as to tampering with the evidence and incomplete investigation without custodial interrogation of accused, cannot be said to be unfounded in the present facts and circumstances,” the court said in its order.

The CBI alleged that commissions were received in this case from suppliers of fertilisers and raw materials using a complex web of transactions.

The sham transactions were facilitated through circuitous routes in the garb of consultancy agreements to hide commissions paid to Indian Farmers Fertiliser Co-operative Limited (IFFCO) CEO Awasthi, and Indian Potash head Gahlaut, who allegedly imported fertilisers and raw materials at inflated rates, the CBI said.

The modus operandi was similar to the one used to send bribes in the AgustaWestland choppers alleged kickbacks case in which Saxena is under investigation.

“Saxena’s role in a number of such deals is being probed by the CBI and the ED,” an official source said.

IFFCO is a multi-state farmers’ cooperative while IPL is its company involved in supplying fertilisers for which the government provides subsidies to keep rates affordable for farmers.

The CBI alleged that between 2007-14, in order to claim higher subsidies, Awasthi and Gahlaut as part of a “criminal conspiracy” imported fertilisers at highly inflated rates.

This included their commissions from various overseas suppliers.

The commission amounts were siphoned out of India through their sons based in the US and other accused persons, including the owners of Jyoti Trading Corporation and the Rare Earth Group, Pankaj Jain who is linked to both companies, his brother Sanjay Jain as well as Dhari and Saxena, the CBI said in the FIR.

It went on to say that Saxena and his associates received USD 114.32 million, around Rs 685 crore at a transaction rate Rs 60 per dollar, of illegal commission in the bank accounts of his group companies and in the individual accounts of Jain, Gahlaut’s son Vivek, Awasthi’s son Amol and as well as the RJD MP.