Another fraud escapes like Nirav Modi! Nitin Sandesara flees to Nigeria without paying Rs 5,000 crore to banks

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Another fraud escapes like Nirav Modi! Nitin Sandesara flees to Nigeria without paying Rs 5,000 crore to banks

The ED had registered a money laundering case against Sterling Biotech and its promoters, the Sandesara brothers, last October, taking cognisance of a CBI FIR on charges of alleged corruption.

Nitin Sandesara, the prime accused behind a Rs 5000-crore bank fraud and money laundering case, seems to have given the Indian authorities a slip once again. The owner of Gujarat-based Sterling Biotech, who had reportedly been arrested in Dubai last month, is no longer in the UAE.

Top sources in the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) told The Times of India that Sandesara and his family members, including brother Chetan Sandesara and sister-in-law Diptiben Sandesara, are believed to be hiding in Nigeria. They added that India has not signed any extradition treaty or a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty with Nigeria, so bringing them back home would be difficult.

"There were reports that Nitin Sandesara was detained by UAE authorities in Dubai in the second week of August. It was incorrect information. He was never detained in Dubai. He and other family members probably left for Nigeria much before that," an officer told the daily. It is not known if the Sandesaras travelled to Nigeria on Indian passports or that of some other country.

Nonetheless, in a clear attempt to cover all bases, the investigation agencies are reportedly planning to send a request to UAE authorities asking them to "provisionally arrest" the Sandesaras if they are seen there. Meanwhile, efforts are on to get Interpol red corner notices issued against the accused.

The ED had registered a money laundering case against Sterling Biotech and its promoters, the Sandesara brothers, last October, taking cognisance of a CBI FIR on charges of alleged corruption. The family has been absconding ever since. In addition, the investigative agencies booked the Vadodara-based pharmaceutical firm's directors including Dipti, Rajbhushan Omprakash Dixit, Vilas Joshi, chartered accountant Hemant Hathi, former Andhra Bank director Anup Garg and some unidentified persons for cheating banks of Rs 5,000 crore.

The probe agencies have alleged that the accused, on the "basis of false and fabricated" documents, had fraudulently obtained credit facilities from various banks, which subsequently turned into non-performing assets (NPAs).

"The loans were sanctioned by a consortium of banks like the Andhra Bank, the UCO Bank, the State Bank of India, the Allahabad Bank and the Bank of India," said the ED, adding, "Till date, the banks have declared as fraud, various outstanding loan accounts..in respect of various companies of Sterling Group including Sterling Biotech Ltd, Sterling Port Ltd, PMT Machines Ltd, Sterling SEZ and Infrastructure Ltd and Sterling Oil Resources Ltd."

The agency further alleged that the siphoned off loan funds were used to purchase a "fleet of luxury cars", jewellery, "buy properties in the names of various companies", purchase shares of Sterling Biotech Ltd and Sterling International Enterprises Ltd to fuel market speculation, and "project a healthy picture of the companies".

In June, the ED attached assets worth over Rs 4,700 crore of the company - the attachment amount was the second highest so far this year after the Nirav Modi-PNB fraud case. The agency has also already arrested Dixit, Garg and Delhi-based businessman Gagan Dhawan, who had allegedly helped the accused directors. However, according to the officials, bringing the Sandesaras back to India to face criminal proceedings was important as they had diverted huge amounts of money abroad.

According to the filed chargesheets, the Sandesaras set up more than 300 shell or benami companies in India and abroad, which were allegedly used to "divert and misutilise loan funds". They controlled their shell firms through dummy directors, who were/are employees of various companies of the Sterling group. Bogus sales and purchases were shown between the benami companies and the Sterling group firms to divert loans and inflate their turnover, which in turn was leveraged to obtain more bank loans.

Officials added that the modus operandi of the Sandesaras involved manipulating balance sheets, inflating turnover and insider shares trading.

With PTI inputs