Mumbai / Pune: The reluctance of a top Swiss bank to help Indian investigators is slowing the unravelling of an intricate multinational trail of money transfers—across Switzerland, New York, the British Virgin Islands and Pune—between an Indian horse owner and a fugitive Saudi arms dealer, according to officials in the Enforcement Directorate, the government body that investigates economic crimes.
A top official in the Enforcement Directorate (ED) who did not wish to be identified confirmed on Friday that the agency’s officials, in December 2007, had advised the Indian government not to clear a Rs467 crore plan by UBS (United Bank of Switzerland) AG, the world’s biggest wealth management company, to buy the Indian mutual fund business of Standard Chartered Bank because the Swiss bank had not helped track international money transfers of Pune horse owner Hassan Ali Khan.
Investigators from the ED, who recently claim to have found $8 billion in the Swiss bank accounts of Hasan Ali Khan, say they now have evidence of a $300 million transfer to him (via a Chase Manhattan bank account in New York) from billionaire Saudi arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, whose arms supplies to Tamil terrorists, the LTTE, were revealed during an investigation into the 1991 assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
As the Bombay high court hears an Enforcement Directorate plea not to return passports to Khan and his wife Rheema, the Hindustan Timeshas previewed a secret ED report that reveals the agency’s attempts to find the links between Khan and Khashoggi.
Home turf: Hassan Ali Khan (second from right, in safari suit) with wife Rheema (second from left) and father-in-law Abbas Ali Khan (fourth from right).
As evidence the report quotes a notation, “funds from weapon sales”, made by UBS AG, a top-tier investment banking and securities firm, after it froze an account belonging to Hassan Ali Khan, the Pune horse owner, following the $300 million transfer to him—it isn’t clear when— from Khashoggi.
“I would not like to talk about this,” said UBS India managing director and chairperson Manisha Girotra, referring all questions to the bank’s spokesperson.
“As a truly global entity, our policy on such issues is to comply with the laws and regulations in each host country, while at the same time, complying with the banking laws in Switzerland,” the UBS spokesperson said in an email. The spokesperson declined to comment specifically on the arms sale notation.
The government has told the Bombay high court that the Khans are “virtually absconding” and if they are allowed to leave India, investigations could collapse. Khan’s counsel, Milind Sathe, said his client “regularly appeared before the Directorate”. Asked where Khan was, his main lawyer, Mugdha Jadhav, said: “Can’t tell you, sorry.”
At Pune race course, HT found Hassan Ali Khan’s father-in-law, Abbas Ali Khan, who said his son-in-law was “not well” and in Mumbai. He dismissed all allegations.
Hassan Ali Khan has three Indian passports—issued from Pune, Patna and Mumbai; he also applied for passports from Guwahati and Chandigarh— and he and his wife have applied to Switzerland for citizenship, another ED official who did not wish to be identified said. Passport authorities in those three cities are now trying to find out how three passports were issued to Khan.
Kashoggi now lives a quiet life in the principality of Monaco. There is a British warrant out for his arrest.
Another top official at ED who also did not wish to be identified said Kashoggi’s $300-million transfer was “only the tip of the iceberg” and that the agency was trying to connect the dots in the global trail, which also includes evidence of another $290 million in two “fictitious companies” created by Hassan Ali Khan and a friend in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. All the money transfers are recorded in a laptop seized in January 2007 from Hassan Ali Khan’s house in Pune and while investigators believe this is laundered money, there is no direct evidence. They would also need corroboratory evidence to establish that these transfers have anything to do with terror networks.
“These are all false allegations,” said Sathe. Asked about the $300 million transfer from Khashoggi, he said: “When the Enforcement Directorate questions us, we shall give a reply.”
The ED official, who confirmed the agency’s involvement in spiking UBS’ deal with Standard Chartered, said the Swiss bank had told Indian investigators to get a letter rogatory, a formal request from an Indian court to a Swiss court. This is a complicated process and would have needed to be routed through the ministry of external affairs, and it would have involved finding and presenting clear evidence of Hassan Ali’s links to terror.
It now seems apparent that UBS’ stand in the ongoing investigation led to the collapse of its deal with Standard Chartered Bank.
In a December report, Mint said that the Reserve Bank, India’s banking regulator, would not approve the deal because of possible money laundering through the Swiss bank involving certain transactions of Khan. On Friday, RBI declined to comment. “We are a civil body,” a spokesperson said. “Whenever we find violations, issued to be investigated, we hand over the information to the Enforcement Directorate. We have not issued any comments on the issue of UBS.”
In December, Standard Chartered, the parent of Standard Chartered Bank in India, sent a notice to stock exchanges in London and Hong Kong, where it is listed, saying it would not proceed with the deal, without giving a reason.(Hindustan Times)