Sterling Biotech promoters ‘fugitive economic offenders’

A Delhi court on Monday declared the Sandesara brothers, Nitin and Chetan Sandesara, the latter’s wife Dipti and close associate Hitesh Kumar Patel fugitive economic offenders, allowing government agencies to confiscate their properties in India and abroad to recover the money they are alleged to have swindled.

The Sandesara brothers, promoters of the Gujarat-based pharmaceutical company Sterling Biotech Ltd, who fled India sometime in 2017, are accused of swindling several banks to the tune of Rs14,500 crore by taking loans and laundering the money in other countries.

The fraud is considered to be one of the biggest banking scams in recent times; it involves an amount larger than that owed by former liquor baron Vijay Mallya and diamond trader Nirav Modi. Before the Sandesaras and Patel, only Mallya and Modi, both of whom are in the UK, had been declared fugitive economic offenders.

People familiar with the location of the Sandesaras said that they were last seen in Nigeria, but intelligence agencies have suggested that they could be in the United States, the United Kingdom or the United Arab Emirates.

Additional sessions judge at the Patiala House Courts Dharmender Rana, while declaring Sandesaras and HItesh Patel fugitives under the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act 2018, said: “I have no hesitation in observing that this court is satisfied that the ED {Enforcement Directorate} has successfully pleaded and proved that the respondents herein are fugitive economic offenders”.

“The conduct of the respondents (Sandesaras), unambiguously, establishes on record that they have left India to avoid criminal prosecution and they are deliberately avoiding to return back to India to face the instant prosecution,” the judge said in the order.

Appearing for the ED, additional solicitor general S V Raju and special public prosecutor Nitesh Rana argued that the Sandesaras had fled India and were evading criminal prosecution. They said they had chosen deliberately not to return to India to face trial and were shifting their base from one country to another to escape the law.

Rana informed the court that “provisional arrest requests were sent to the UAE but the same has also failed to yield any results. Based on intelligence inputs, Sandesaras are presumably in Nigeria, the UK, USA or UAE”.

The brothers are being probed by multiple agencies, including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the Income Tax Department.

In June 2019, the ED attached moveable and immovable properties worth Rs9,778 crores belonging to the Sandesaras, including four oil rigs and oil fields in Nigeria, and several ships apart from a Gulfstream aircraft and flat in London.

Reacting to the order, the Sandesaras’s lawyer Hemant Shah said: “We are perusing the order. We will avail the remedies available in the law”.

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