Thursday, August 11, 2022

Alleged Defence Middleman ‘Sanjay Bhandari’ Claims Persecution, Accuses Thales Of Corruption; Firm Refutes

By Aritra Banerjee

In a bombshell development, Sanjay Bhandari, an alleged defence middleman, has applied for political asylum in Britain. Earlier, The Daily Telegraph had revealed that Bhandari made a €11 million (₹92 crores) claim against the French defence and aerospace giant Thales in a commercial court in Paris. Thales supplies avionics equipment for the Rafale fighters, offered by Dassault Aviation – another major French firm

What Does Bhandari Claim?

Bhandari has alleged that Thales owes him a commission. He has claimed that the firm hired him to bag a €2.4 billion (₹20,119 crores) contract for the upgradation of the Indian Air Force’s Mirage 2000s. An agreement that Bhandari claimed was inked in 2011. The Telegraph reported that “Mr Bhandari alleges that from 2008 he helped Thales sell the upgrade of the Mirage jets by facilitating a meeting” with a highly placed Indian official. 

He claims that he was due a consultancy fee of €20 million (₹167 crores) but was paid €9 million (₹75 crores). Bhandari further claimed that the change in the political landscape in 2016 was the primary reason behind this. The alleged defence middleman was seen as being close to the Indian National Congress (INC). Bhandari has also accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of persecuting him, seemingly for his association with the opposition. He fled to the United Kingdom in 2016 and has since allegedly been warding off what he described as “unrelated extradition attempts”, prompting him to apply for political asylum. 

A Covert Money Scheme?

Going by Bhandari’s claim, he was paid through a covert financial scheme spanning India and Dubai, allowing for ‘off the books’ commission to middlemen. According to Bhandari, a “special subsidiary” called Thales Middle East and Africa was deployed to discharge “these financial structures.” He made further allegations that Thales awarded Offset contracts to two Bangalore based firms, which purportedly paid a portion of the amount received from Thales to UHY Saxena Consulting, a Dubai based entity, which paid fees due to Bhandari. 

Thales Refutes Bhandari’s Claims

Thales responded to a request for comment by Indian Aerospace & Defence with an official company statement: “Mr Bhandari filed a petition against Thales SA in a commercial court in June 2021 for the settlement of sums allegedly due to him on an aeronautical modernisation project. Thales firmly denies the claims by Mr Sanjay Bhandari regarding the sums allegedly due, or any other payments to him by Thales SA.” 

“Thales has never signed a contract with Mr Bhandari or his companies in connection with this project. Thales complies with the law and applies a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and influence peddling. The Group’s integrity programme is regularly evaluated and amended to reflect changes in applicable legislation and best practices,” Thales stressed.

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