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Gautam Khaitan back in jail over allegedly new allegations • Lawyer claims ED is making him a ‘monkey’ fallguy

Gautam Khaitan back in new crosshairs over arms deals other than Agusta (or so ED says)
Gautam Khaitan back in new crosshairs over arms deals other than Agusta (or so ED says)

Gautam Khaitan, managing partner of OP Khaitan & Co, is back in jail, after a special court re-extended his Enforcement Directory (ED) custody over the weekend by another six days, to a total of 11 days now, following fresh black money allegations made by the ED that are apparently not related to the dodgy Rs 3,600 crore AgustaWestland chopper deal.

The Delhi court ordered medical tests for Khaitan, who had complained for sleeping troubles in his cell, but agreed to extend Khaitan’s detention, which had commenced again the previous week, after the ED claimed that it had “material evidence and reasons to believe” that Khaitan was guilty of money laundering under Section 51 of the Black Money (Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets) and Imposition of Tax Act 2015.

Apparently, the ED has knowledge of Khaitan holding unidentified assets worth more than Rs 500 crore ($70m).

It alleged, according to the New Indian Express: “The accused is in possession of the proceeds of crime generated as a result of the wilful attempt to evade tax. The accused has intentionally and deliberately been involved in projecting the proceeds of crime as untainted.”

“He knows all the persons related to arms deals other than AgustaWestland and other deals. There are many more information where people who handle other deals were in his contact. All the documents shown in AgustaWestland are being put before me again in this case,” ED prosecutors added.

The previous week, after an Income Tax Department raid and Khaitan’s arrest on 25 January, the ED had told the court that new charges were unrelated to the chopper deal, but were solely about his holding of illegal foreign accounts and black money and so-called “stash assets”, the ET had reported.

Khaitan’s lawyer PK Dubey, apparently responded that the ED’s evidence was forged and that it was basically making the AgustaWestland case again, suggesting it was an attempt to pressure Khaitan to flip on other high-profile accused in the case.

Making client a patsy, claims Khaitan’s lawyer

According to NDTV on 29 January, Dubey told the court emphatically:

“They asked [Khaitan] to give any name involved in any defence deal [during the UPA government’s period]. They asked to give any name, that they needed it within these two months. They are constantly forcing me to give name and I will be absolved.

“When Michel [a recently-extradited middleman in the deal] came, you (ED) said he had taken my name and I was required to be confronted. But nothing came out of that case. Now you have come up with this case.

“For same offence I am being prosecuted under I-T Act, Blackmoney Act and now in money laundering case. What was the hurry to arrest me? Is there any summon I did not appear for? No fresh ground for this case.

“Any new law comes and the test is done on me [Khaitan]. I have been made a monkey on whom every test is done.

With general elections looming, and the allegedly corrupt chopper deal having happened under the previous administration, it is perhaps no surprise that the agencies are feeling pressure to finally bring a prosecution in the now long-dragging investigation.

According to a Times of India report, the ED has recovered 50,000 pages of documents from Khaitan’s phone, evidencing that he provided structuring advice to other overseas arms dealers (though it did not say outright that this work was illegal).

Khaitan had first been arrested in 2014 after a raid on his premises, relating to his alleged involvement in and his board membership of a company related to the so-called choppergate scam. He had won bail in January 2015 for Rs 10 lakhs, after spending more than three months in jail.

But Khaitan had not left the CBI radar, with the agency reportedly having questioned him again in May 2016.

In July 2018, the ED filed supplementary charge sheets in the scam case against Khaitan, as well as ex-Indian Air Force chief SP Tyagi and his family, and several other alleged middlemen.

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