Pilatus Aircraft Deal Under Scanner As Arms Dealer’s Papers Raise Questions
The scope of the investigation into the activities of Delhi-based arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari — whose home and offices were searched on April 27 — has now widened to involve India’s acquisition of a Swiss-made basic trainer aircraft or BTA for the Air Force.
Mr Bhandari is already being investigated for allegedly buying a benami or proxy-owned house for Robert Vadra in London. Now, investigators are now probing what kind of services his company, the Offset India Solution Private Limited, had provided to Swiss aircraft major Pilatus.
Top government sources told NDTV that documents recovered from Sanjay Bhandari’s properties reveal that his company, Offset India Solution Private Limited, had received around 7,50,000 Swiss Francs from Pilatus in 2010.
Trainer aircraft are the planes used to teach cadets to fly when they join the air force. The Air Force had decided to purchase the Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II after the indigenous HTP-32 was grounded due to repeated failures.
When the Manmohan Singh government had signed a Rs. 2,896 crore deal for 75 BTA with Pilatus Aircraft in May 2012, the competitors had red flagged the purchase.
The Ministry of Defence is also looking at the acquisition. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had earlier indicated his reservation about the deal. Addressing the Parliament on May 6, the minister said there was a lot of discussion on Pilatus in 2012.
He said when he joined office, around 62 planes were flying. “I thought if I raise it (the deal) now, the Air Force (pilot) shortage, which has come to 164, would have gone up to 1,000,” the minister said. “Sometimes, you are under strain to continue even (if it is) not very healthy.”
“I will investigate, but will not stop flying the aircraft,” Mr Parrikar had added.
18 properties owned or linked to Mr Bhandari were raided last month by investigators who allege he has committed a variety of financial crimes.