Image Source : PTI UK-based arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari

London: Sanjay Bhandari, an accused middleman in the defence sector who fled to the United Kingdom after facing charges of alleged tax evasion and money laundering, had his bail conditions eased on Friday in order to attend his son’s wedding in southeast England. Bhandari is currently contesting his extradition to India on tax evasion and money laundering charges.

Former UK Home Secretary had ordered the extradition of Bhandari, 62, to face criminal proceedings in India last year following a Westminster Magistrates’ Court ruling in November 2022. However, the Royal Courts of Justice granted permission to appeal to the businessman in March this year. Bhandari fled to the UK in 2016.

Bhandari appealed to the Westminster Magistrates Court through his lawyers to be allowed to reside at a hotel address between July 7 and 11, instead of his court-registered London address. As part of an agreement with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – representing the Indian authorities in the extradition proceedings, part of Bhandari’s bail conditions while his extradition appeal remains ongoing have now been “varied”. “The bail will be varied between July 7 and 11,” Judge Briony Clark stated.

Who is Sanjay Bhandari?

Bhandari is a UK-based arms dealer who offered consultancy services to defence manufacturers bidding for Indian government contracts through his firm Offset India Solutions. He was a resident of India for tax purposes in 2015 and was accused of concealing overseas assets, using backdated documents, benefiting from the assets not declared to the Indian tax authorities and then falsely informing the authorities that he did not possess any overseas assets.

The case concerns two extradition requests from the Indian authorities, the first concerning an allegation of money laundering, contrary to Section 3 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act 2002 in India. The second request concerns an allegation of wilfully attempting to evade a tax, penalty or interest chargeable or imposable under the Black Money Act 2015 contrary to Section 51 of that act in India.

The Enforcement Directorate had earlier named Robert Vadra, the husband of Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, in the case and accused him of “renovating and staying” at a London property linked to Bhandari.

Bhandari allowed to appeal extradition

In December last year, the ED submitted a new charge sheet in this case against UK national Sumit Chadha and UAE-based NRI businessman CC, also known as Cheruvathur Chakutty Thampi. The probe agency claimed Thampi was a “close associate” of Vadra when he was arrested in January 2020. The agency accused Bhandari of holding various undisclosed foreign income and Chadha was complicit in these crimes.

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), on behalf of the Indian authorities, argued that Bhandari’s conduct amounts to “fraud by false representation” in the British jurisdiction. Bhandari’s defence team had sought to argue against the prima facie case and also on human rights grounds, claiming a “real risk” that he would be subjected to torture by the police and of a breach of his Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) rights because of the conditions in Indian prisons, from “non-state agents and from the prison guards”.

In March, the judge of the  Royal Courts of Justice granted permission to appeal to the businessman, saying that he was “satisfied that the grounds are reasonably arguable.” The basis for the appeal is that District Judge Michael Snow had “erred in his conclusions” that the offences were extradition offences and a prima facie case had been established against Bhandari.

(with inputs from PTI)