On 5 October, anti-graft activist Arvind Kejriwal and his associates accused Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi of corruption. That snow-balled into a political controversy ahead of key state assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh. Kejriwal has alleged that Vadra, husband of Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka, has purchased at least 31 properties mostly in New Delhi worth more than Rs.300 crore for which money has come from “unsecured interest-free loans from DLF Ltd”. Both Vadra and DLF have since then denied these allegations. The main opposition party Bharatiya Janata Party has demanded a probe into the matter. A news roundup of the controversy so far:
26 October 2012
“Haryana’s deputy commissioners have found no irregularities in Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s land deals. A panel of four Deputy Commissioners has given Vadra’s deals a clean chit. Four Haryana deputy commissioners conducted inquiries into Vadra’s deals after IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s order, dated October 12,” CNN-IBN said in a report.
In an opinion piece, Firstpost.com has compared Vadra to Nitin Gadkari and has said the former is better off considering no probe was ordered into his business dealings despite the fact that they were all in public domain.
“What is interesting here is that Vadra’s dealings with DLF are also in the public domain and the news was all coming in the newspapers, as Moily put it in Gadkari’s context. That being the case, shouldn’t Moily have ordered a “discreet inquiry” against Vadra as well?,” the piece asks.
“The investigative mills of the government grind slowly – but only when allegations of corruption are levelled against one of its own. When the charges relate to a leader of the principal Opposition party, the same leaden-footed investigative agencies begin to show extraraordinary agility and earnestness of purpose. Witness the alacrity with which a whole battery of investigative agencies and regulators – from the Income Tax Department to the Registrar of Companies – have responded to the ongoing revelations into the web of deceit that BJP president Nitin Gadkari wove. The daily drip-drip of media investigations into Gadkari’s maze of companies and their shadowy transactions with contractors clearly establish a dubious relationship that thrives at the intersection of business and politics, from which both parties derive unjust benefits,” Firstpost.com notes in another opinion piece.
“Haryana’s whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka on Tuesday said the committee set up to probe his order on Robert Vadra-DLF land deal could be an “eyewash”. He also lashed out at his fellow IAS officers, who, according to Khemka, have become “greater than god”,” The Times of India said in a report.
23 October 2012
“After maintaining a brief silence over the probe he launched into a plot of land acquired by a Robert Vadra-owned company, IAS officer Ashok Khemka has said the three-member committee formed by the Haryana government was in violation of a high court order,” Firstpost.com reported.
“According to Khemka, the IAS officials do not have the jurisdiction to probe the orders that were passed by him and was merely a cover up,” the report added.
“The BJP has said that its president, Nitin Gadkari, is willing to accept and cooperate with “any sort of inquiry” into allegations of dubious funding for his business, Purti Power and Sugar. However, the Opposition party says there has to be a level playing field for investigations centred on politicians who are accused of graft. The Congress, it said, is protecting its own,” NDTV news channel said in a report.
“Unlike the Congress, our president has said he is open to any inquiry,” said BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday. She compared this response to the case of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, Robert Vadra, who has been accused of accepting sweetheart deals from real estate giant DLF. In exchange, the Congress government in Haryana allegedly did favours that promoted DLF’s vast business interests in the state. Mr Vadra, DLF and the Haryana government have refuted the charges. A series of senior cabinet ministers enthusiastically defended Mr Vadra -a point of much criticism among the opposition, the media and the activists headed by Arvind Kejriwal, who has launched a new political party and “outed” Mr Vadra’s DLF connection by releasing documents about their transactions at two different press conferences,” the NDTV report said.
22 October 2012
“Even as the Haryana government formed a three-member committee to probe into the charges levelled by whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka against Robert Vadra-DLF land deal in Gurgaon, the state government has shied away from naming either ‘Vadra’ or ‘DLF’ in the order,” The Times of India said in a report.
“... the government order announcing the setting up of the probe committee just gave the numbers of the two Khemka orders and instructed the panel to conduct an inquiry into it without naming ‘Vadra’ and ‘DLF’,” the report further said.
“The India Against Corruption (IAC) has done a gutsy and commendable job in bringing these findings to the forefront. Vadra’s shady dealings were common gossip in banking circles for years. The media knew it well too. However, it is the IAC that crystallized the outrage, presented some documents and made it a topic of household discussion,” author Chetan Bhagat has said in an opinion piece in The Times of India.
“IAC’s next move, however, demanding an independent investigation into Vadra, is probably going to disappoint them. Firstly, a fair and independent investigation is nearly impossible in India against the Gandhi family, especially when they are in power. Second, and more important, is even if a fair investigation is conducted, there may not be much illegality in what Vadra did (ignoring the charges of fraudulent financial statement, as alleged in some news reports). After all, Vadra made a friend in DLF, and DLF helped Vadra out. That’s all the paper trail may reveal, despite exhaustive investigations. In fact, when powerful people help each other, they are smart enough to keep the paper trail sacrosanct. Expensive lawyers and CAs work hard to ensure the deals have a semblance of legality, whatever the intent. Proving quid-pro-quo is going to be even more difficult. A company like DLF has a vast presence. It needs the government to cooperate with it in hundreds of places. DLF does not need to do a quid pro quo or transactional help. It would rather do favors and make friends in the government. Favours, as the eponymous character in the novel The Godfather would say, that could be utilized at a later date in the form of return favours,” Bhagat goes on to say.
Journalist Manoj Joshi has said in an opinion piece that the “code of collusion” between politicians is “breaking down.”
“Living as we do in the age of reverse swing, we may be upon a new era when the old rules that bound the Indian elite in a culture of complicity may be getting over. This seems to be the takeaway from the charges that are being levelled at Robert Vadra, businessman and son-in-law of Sonia Gandhi,” Joshi says in an opinion piece in Daily Mail.
“The great change that is occurring now promises to transform the Indian polity because at its root is the urge towards democratisation. There is a markedly increased assertion of the underclass - defined by caste, economic level or even gender. There is an aspiration of all Indians to get ahead and improve their station in life and prosper. In this perspective corruption and malfeasance by the political class and the bureaucracy are seen as attempts to hold back people from what is legitimately theirs. The key factors amplifying the trend are the growth of literacy and what are called Information and Communications Technologies (ICT). In India they are manifested by the wide penetration of the mobile phone, newspapers and the television across the country,” he goes on to say.
“Chicanery in land deals was not the only interesting takeaway from the controversy surrounding the association between real estate major DLF and Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. L’affaire Vadra also exposed government highhandedness against officers doing their job,” an opinion piece in The Economic Times says.
“The Haryana government shunted out IAS officer Ashok Khemka for launching a probe into Vadra-DLF deals. He revealed soon after that he has been transferred more than 40 times in 20 years of service. Is that legal? Khemka has challenged the transfer, citing the IAS (Fixation of Cadre Strength) Regulations, 2010. The rule guarantees a fixed tenure of two years for officers. But here is the catch: the rule is not implemented by half of Indian states. Even in states like Haryana which have technically adopted it, the central government has not monitored its implementation,” the piece goes on to say.
21 October 2012
“The BJP is likely to turn the heat on the government over a string of controversies involving Robert Vadra and Union Law Minister Salman Khurshid,” The Indian Express newspaper said, referring to the winter session of Parliament, which is likely to begin on 21 November.
“Meanwhile, Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has threatened to bring a no-confidence motion against the government. Also the DMK, which supports the government from outside, is likely to oppose the FDI in multi-brand retail along with the Samajwadi Party. The monsoon session was washed away with the BJP demanding resignation of the prime minister over the coal block allocation controversy,” the report added.
“Anti-corruption activist Arvind Kejriwal today challenged Congress general secretary Digvijay Singh to persuade Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to answer questions put by India Against Corruption,” Business Standard reported.
“He also asked if either Sonia Gandhi, Prime Minister or Rahul Gandhi would come for a public debate. “I request Mr Digvijay to encourage Mrs Gandhi, Prime Minister or Mr Rahul Gandhi to come for a public debate. It could be a place and time of their choice. Let’s question each other and let the public question us on personal and public issues. Is Digvijay ready?” he asked,” the report added.
“The Congress, after being cornered over party president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in law Robert Vadra’s land deals, has now said that it has enough evidence of corruption against families of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and senior BJP leader LK Advani. However, General Secretary Digvijaya Singh said his party will never disclose the details,” CNN-IBN news channel has said.
“The Indian Against Corruption (IAC) activists on Sunday held a protest outside Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s residence in Delhi. Over a hundred activists, who were protesting against the Haryana government for allegedly favouring and facilitating land deals between Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and real estate giant DLF, also clashed with the police,” the Zee News channel reports.
“Even after Haryana ordered a probe into the actions of officials, Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda had insisted that his government had not favoured anyone in land deals. The state also countered Khemka’s claims over his transfer,” the report noted.
“From Bikaner to Haryana, the one common thread in multiple land purchases by Robert Vadra that run into nearly 800 hectares is a name that is, by now, familiar to Bikaner’s property brokers — Mahesh Nagar. This Faridabad resident is the man authorised by Vadra, the son-in-law of UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, to register property documents on his behalf, including 20-odd properties purchased between 2009 and 2011 in Bikaner for Rs 2.85 crore,” DNA said in a report.
“While Nagar has remained low-key, documents available with DNA show that the businessman not only held the power of attorney for Vadra-owned companies that purchased 20-odd properties in Kolayat tehsil of Bikaner, but was also the executant in over half a dozen other land agreement registrations in the region during the same period between 2009 and 2011. Nagar’s name is stated in the registration records for six land purchases in Kolayat by a company named Alpha Heights Pvt Ltd based in Daryaganj, Delhi, and another purchase made by a Bhubaneshwar-based real estate marketing company. These include a 13.67-hectare plot and a 8.81-ha plot purchased in August 2009 for Rs 31,00,000 and Rs 18,70,000. The seller in these two deals was Bikaner investor Vineet Asopa, who received cheques bearing Vadra’s signature, though records of the Registrar of Companies show the directors of Alpha Heights as being Anju and Amit Yadav of New Delhi. Other properties purchased by Alpha Heights include a 5.5-ha plot purchased for Rs 18 lakh, a 1.72-ha plot for Rs 5,60,000 and a 0.65-ha plot purchased for Rs 2,70,000, all in August 2009,” the report said.
“The fact-finding committee set up by the Haryana government to probe the charges levelled by IAS officer Ashok Khemka against Robert Vadra’s land deals will probe only two of Khemka letters within a month,” The Indian Express said in a report.
“While the first letter pertains to Khemka ordering a probe into the under-valuation of land purchased by Vadra or his companies or his companies in Gurgaon, Faridabad, Mewat and Palwal districts, in the second letter, he had cancelled Vadra’s mutation in Shikohpur village,” the report said.
20 October 2012
There is a fresh twist in L’affaire Vadra. Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan has said that Robert Vadra was involved in the alleged Commonwealth Games (CWG) scam and has demanded a probe, The Times of India said in a report.
“Khan, in fact, created ripples by alleging that Vadra got contracts of several projects related to 2010 Commonwealth Games (CWG), which was marred by the scam estimated to be of over Rs 10,000 crore. He said that if the Congress led central government fails in taking any action in corruption cases, people will teach lesson to the Congress in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as they did in the case of Mayawati by voting against her in UP assembly elections,” the report said.
“Addressing media persons, Khan said that he has been demanding independent probe against Robert Vadra for getting several contracts related to the CWG since long. “People want to know how the son-in-law of Congress president got the contracts in his name and other people and what was his qualification and what was the quality of the work,” he said. He also said that the probe should include Vadra’s with real estate giant DLF,” the report further said.
“Corporation Bank on Friday reiterated it had not extended overdraft facility of Rs 7.94 crore to a company owned by Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and has no role in the raging controversy over his land deal with realty major DLF. “The bank has no role in the entire controversy,” Corporation Bank chairman and managing director Ajai Kumar told reporters in Kochi,” the Press Trust of India has reported.
“He said the bank had not extended any overdraft facility to Sky Light Hospitality, the company owned by Vadra. “We have not extended any overdraft facility. Some accounting practices have been followed by the company and I cannot comment on that,” he said,” the report adds.
An opinion piece in Firstpost.com has compared L’affaire Vadra to a similar episode in the 1980s surrounding Imelda Marcos, a Filipino politician and widow of Ferdinand Marcos, the former President of The Philippines.
“It’s amazing what one gets to see when the palace doors come loose on their hinges,” the piece says.
“In 1986, when a ‘people’s power’ revolution in the Philippines toppled Ferdinand Marcos from power, ending a 21-year dictatorial reign, the dirty unwashed masses, who had been robbed blind by Marcos’ corrupt ways for a generation, got a chance to see what had been going on behind the high walls of Malacanang Palace. They learnt, for instance, that during those 20-plus years in power, he and his diva-esque wife Imelda Marcos had embezzled public funds running to billions of dollars and channelled them into accounts and investments in Switzerland, the US and elsewhere,” the piece notes further.
“Much the same can be said of the frenzy of land acquisition by our politicians—and, at least in one case, a politician’s son-in-law—the sordid details of which have been tumbling out of cupboards in recent days. In almost all the cases that have come to light, the modus operandi for instant fortunes is simple: corner large plots of agricultural land, bought on the cheap from farmers, change the land-use pattern (which those in positions of power can get done in double-quick time), and sell it to real-estate developers for windfall profits. It’s the alchemy of the new age, only it comes with infinitely better return on investment,” it goes on to say.
Another report, this time in India Today, has detailed Vadra’s land deals in Bikaner.
“What is significant about Vadra’s land dealings in Bikaner is that he was among the first to buy property there when Bikaner’s Gajner town of Kolayat tehsil was hardly seen as an investment destination because of its aridness and lack of infrastructure,” the report notes.
“It all started in December 2008, when Ashok Gehlot ousted the BJP’s Vasundhara Raje in the assembly elections and came to power in the desert state,” it further says.
Ajay Singh, the managing editor of Governance Now, has said that the Indian ruling elite has a “code of silence”.
“Like the Italian Mafiosi bound by the pact of secrecy known as Omerta, India’s elites are intrinsically secretive. They fight back bitterly whenever this unwritten code is challenged. This is why Jinnah’s eating habits and Nehru’s notings on the Indo-China war remain taboos in public discourse so far. Gandhi, whose life was his message, is the sole exception. But in the age of social media, this code has come under siege,” Singh says.
“Take the case of Robert Vadra whose shenanigans were talked about in a hushed tone in Delhi’s power circles. But the whole issue was forbidden in public discourse. Similarly BJP president Nitin Gadkari’s antics that cross the boundary of public morality are never a hidden fact. His dalliances with industrialists of questionable credentials are frowned upon within the Hindutva family. Yet the issue is a taboo not only for the BJP but also for other political leaders. In this context, the reaction of BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley, and RSS’s second-in-command Bhaiyya-ji Joshi in defence of Gadkari was predictable. But what is really amazing is the thickness of the hide that the political class has come to acquire over the years to become totally impervious to legal, moral or ethical values. The Vadra-Gadkari episode just exemplified that,” he goes on to say.
“Arvind Kejriwal could be accused, with some reason, of being like a Bofors gun—he ‘shoots and scoots’. The specifics of the allegations that he makes in each case may be wrong or off the mark, but he is not waiting to provide explanations or get into arguments, because he has moved on to his next target. It is hard to tell whether this tactic will be effective, particularly in the face of a “club class” of politicians who are willing to brazen it out, come what may,” T.N. Ninan says in an opinion piece in Business Standard.
“The question to ask is whether, when charges are flying thick and fast in all directions, the institution of a Lokpal—which the movement led by Anna Hazare had made its single-point demand last year—would have made a difference? Would it, in the first instance, have provided protection to those who feel wrongly targeted? After all, a reference to the Lokpal would have led to proper scrutiny, and clearing of the air if the charges were baseless—so that reputation damage was avoided. Salman Khurshid would not have needed to threaten answers written in blood, if all he had to do was present his case to a Lokpal. Similarly, those hurling accusations today would have had to be more responsible because any charges they make would quickly have been put to the test. Finally, those guilty would not have been able to brazen it out, as is being done today, because their actions could have been referred to the Lok Pal by any ordinary citizen,” he goes on to say.
Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN has compared the demeanour of Robert Vadra to that of Upinder Singh, an academic and daughter of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and asks if Vadra “could learn” from her.
“At a seminar in Delhi a few years ago, a soft-spoken, petite woman in a crumpled sari was one of the panellists. She engaged in the debate and then quietly left in a self-driven Maruti car with hardly anyone noticing. Except for her associates, few others would have known that they had been in the company of the Prime Minister’s daughter: Professor Upinder Singh, professor of history at Delhi University,” Sardesai says.
“Since the era of Indira Gandhi, who allowed her son Sanjay to benefit from the largesse of a Haryana chief minister of another era (remember Bansi Lal and Maruti?), almost every Indian Prime Minister has had to face the accusation of allowing proximity to power to benefit their relatives in some form or the other. In that sense, Manmohan Singh and his family stand out as glorious exceptions to the rule. Dr Singh is perhaps fortunate that his family has been primarily in academia and thus is less likely to be influenced by a charmed power circle. Robert Vadra is a businessman, and to that extent, was always more susceptible to the charge of misusing his position for monetary benefits. Ditto the case with another businessman-turned neta Jagan Mohan Reddy, son of the late Andhra chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy. Both Vadra and Reddy have every right to be in business, but both as a result also have to explain as to how their assets multiplied several times over when their families were in power,” he goes on to say.
“The likes of an Arvind Kejriwal have astutely tapped into this growing rage against an unequal system and looked for specific ‘targets’ who are seen to symbolize the privileges of the powerful. The evidence need not be foolproof, criminality need not be established, but in an atmosphere where there is a general ‘perception’ that netas and their influential kith and kin are given special treatment, the anti-corruption campaign has become synonymous with a desire of the ‘aam admi’ to get ‘even’ with the ‘khaas admi’ who is seen to be unaccountable. You don’t need to establish a quid pro quo in the dealings of the rich and powerful; the widespread ‘perception’ that such cosy networks exist is enough to convince people that undue benefits have been conferred,” he further says.
“Under fire for land deals with Robert Vadra companies, DLF is rocking politics in Himachal also as both BJP and Congress trade charges, alleging that land has been sold to the company in violation of state laws,” Hill Post reported.
“Defending charges of having sold land to DLF in Kasauli area, Arun Sen, a brother-in-law of former union minister Virbhadra Singh denied that he had anything to do with the real estate company,” the report said.
“In support of his argument, he even circulated copies of two documents in which permissions for land transactions to DLF Realities and Isawel Builders had been granted in March 2008, at a time when the new BJP government was only 3 months old after winning elections on 30th December, 2007,” the report further said.
In an analytical piece, Firstpost.com has said that effectively Vadra’s land in Bikaner was paid for by DLF.
“Vadra bought these plots of land through his companies Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd, Sky Light Realty Pvt Ltd, Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd, North India IT Park Pvt Ltd and Blue Breeze Trading Pvt Ltd. The question is where did these companies get the money to buy this land? The one word answer is DLF,” the report said as it went on to explain how the real estate major effectively paid for the deals.
“After three days of its announcement, the Haryana government formed on Friday an inquiry committee headed by additional chief secretary, revenue, Krishan Mohan, with two other senior members of the state government to examine Ashok Khemka’s stand on the land deals involving Robert Vadra and DLF in Gurgaon and Palwal districts,” Hindustan Times newspaper reported.
“The inquiry which was to be completed within a month by the committee is supposed to look into the claims made by Khemka on the land deals involving Robert Vadra’s M/s Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd and DLF Universal,” the report added.
Tehelka has said that IAS officer Ashok Khemka taking on Robert Vadra is akin to David taking on Goliath.
“It was not just the Vadra-DLF deal. Earlier, Khemka had specifically named six companies owned by Vadra that needed to be probed. Khemka also ordered deputy commissioners-cum-registrars of Palwal, Mewat, Gurgaon and Faridabad to scrutinise all documents registered by Vadra and his companies to assess the real values of the properties mentioned,” the report said.
“Khemka’s is the typical story of the boy from a humble background who entered the premier civil services of the country. His father was an accountant with a jute factory in Kolkata, where Khemka studied till Class XII before moving to IIT Guwahati. He then did his PhD from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai,” it went on to say.
“Sadly, this is not the first time that an upright office has been hounded by the state government. Haryana’s track record in dealing with another whistleblower, Indian Forest Service officer Sanjiv Chaturvedi, has been much chronicled as a matter of national shame. Chaturvedi was transferred 12 times after he exposed several irregularities in the state forest department. The Haryana government had to revoke his suspension after the Centre intervened and had him transferred out of the state. But the State continues to hound Chaturvedi with criminal cases,” it said.
A report published by Firstpost.com has said that Arvind Kejriwal may have “goofed up” on a deal between DLF and the Haryana government.
“Some respite for Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and DLF! The alleged Vadra-DLF nexus is not so apparent in the 350-acre land deal at Gurgaon that the Haryana government had struck with DLF through international competitive bids in 2009. However, the 3.5 acre Manesar plot which Vadra sold to DLF in a sweetheart deal in 2008 certainly smells fishy. It remains dubious and unexplained,” the report says.
“Documents accessed by Firstpost reveal that Arvind Kejriwal may have erred in facts by linking a Rs 1,700 crore DLF deal in Haryana as quid pro quofor various favours shown to Vadra in other real estate deals, including the purchase of flats from DLF at undervalued rates. Kejriwal had raised five questions against the deal. All his claims can, however, be contradicted with documents, which narrate the sequence of events leading to the 350-acre land deal with DLF,” the report further says.
“The Haryana government is preparing ground for action against whistleblower IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who had cancelled the mutation of Robert Vadra-DLF land deal on October 15 based on a letter by director general of town and country planning department T C Gupta. This letter was submitted to chief secretary P K Chaudhery on Wednesday,” a report in The Times of India has said.
“It’s another matter that with continuous transfers of the whistleblower IAS officer, the Haryana government may be violating its own rules framed in 2010. In a notification on October 13, 2010, the government had fixed minimum tenure of posting of IAS officers holding various assignments, including director general, as two years. No minimum period was fixed for the chief secretary,” the report further noted.
Meanwhile, The Indian Express has detailed a set of other land deals that Khemka was probing as director general. consolidation and land records.
“In just over two months in that post, Khemka had taken on a mining baron for allegedly usurping 53 acres of panchayat land in Manesar; an IAS officer, Praveen Kumar, for allegedly allowing partition and demarcation of panchayat land in favour of his mother while he was DC of Faridabad; IAS officers S C Gupta and Anil Kumar for the alleged transfer of panchayat land in favour of private companies; and a minister for allegedly using a consolidation officer close to him to transfer land in favour of his chartered accountant. He was aware of the possible consequences. “I am threatened of adverse action and transfer in case an order is made against such racketeering. Overcoming this fear I have passed a revisionary order…” he wrote in a September 22 order dealing with a land transfer in which a minister and some IAS officers were allegedly involved,” the report said.
“In a flurry of deals between June 2009 and August 2011, Robert Vadra purchased at least 20 plots of land collectively measuring more than 770 hectares in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, in a region that would see prices spiraling soon after,” DNA newspaper has said in a report.
“A clutch of investors, including Vadra, apparently privy to information on upcoming industrial projects in the vicinity, reaped huge profits with land values appreciating by up to 40 times since 2009.
Click here to read the list of plots Data from the office of the registrar in Bikaner shows 20 properties Vadra purchased through companies, including Real Earth Estates Pvt Ltd, North India IT Park Pvt Ltd, and Skylight Realty Pvt Ltd. All the deals were executed on his behalf by Mahesh Nagar, brother of Haryana Pradesh Congress Committee member Lalit Nagar. These companies together invested Rs2.85 crore in barren land here during this period,” the report further notes.
“When Haryana went to polls in the autumn of 2009, Congress fielded a first-time candidate, Lalit Nagar, in Faridabad’s newly-created constituency of Tigaon. According to a report filed in a Chandigarh-based paper, Nagar had “made a name as a realtor in the area”. But political circles in Faridabad believe not just did he make his name and fortune in the real estate business, Nagar also earned his ticket through it. Documents available with TOI show Lalit Nagar’s brother, Mahesh Nagar, purchased land on behalf of Robert Vadra, not just in Haryana but also in Rajasthan,” The Times of India has said in a report.
“A sale deed dated 3 March, 2008, shows nine acres of land in Hasanpur village in Haryana’s Palwal district was sold by Gurgaon resident H L Pahwa to Robert Vadra for Rs 36.9 lakh. At the bottom of the deed, Pahwa has signed as the seller. But the buyer’s signature is not Vadra’s, it is Mahesh Nagar’s. The buyer is named as ‘Robert Vadra through Mahesh Nagar’, which shows Vadra has vested authority/power of attorney in Mahesh Nagar. Similarly, a sale deed from Rajasthan’s Bikaner district shows 4.63 acres of land in Basti village in Ganganagar tehsil was sold for Rs 8.5 lakh in April, 2009, by 42-year-old Sarita Devi Bothra to Real Earth Estate Private Limited, a company based in New Delhi. The company’s director is Robert Vadra. The purchase is done on his behalf by Mahesh Nagar,” the report goes on to say.
An feature in Open magazine has questioned Robert Vadra’s “silence” on the allegations being leveled against him and also commented on what it means for the Gandhi family and the Congress party.
“Two years before he lost faith in the ‘Mango people’, Robert Vadra told The Times of India that he had been under party pressure to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha election from Sultanpur, the constituency adjoining his mother-in-law Sonia Gandhi’s Raebareli and brother-in-law Rahul Gandhi’s Amethi. “There was a huge demand for me to stand [from Sultanpur],” he told the paper, “but I was clear that it was not my place. I was being recognised only because of the family.” Unknowingly, Vadra had gone to the heart of the matter that is now being contested in the public domain after charges of a nexus between him and DLF have been levelled by the India Against Corruption (IAC) movement reborn as a political party. What Vadra, as Priyanka Gandhi’s husband, acknowledged in 2009 is exactly what the party loyal to the family he has married into has failed to accept today. This is as true of the host of lawyers who think politics in this country is entirely a matter of what is legally tenable, and that issues of propriety or public perception do not count in a democracy,” the piece says.
Another report in The Times of India has questioned whether land in Manesar in Haryana was undervalued for Vadra.
“When Congress chief’s son-in-law Robert Vadra’s company came to the office of Manesar sub-registrar on September 18 this year to register the sale deed (no. 1435) withDLF Universal of the 3.53-acre land that he had bought in Shikohpur in February 2008, the officer was well aware that the value of this land had shot up by almost eight times from Rs 7.5 crore to Rs 58 crore in just four months,” the report notes.
“The land was bought by Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality on February 12, 2008, for Rs 7.5 crore. Immediately after that, Vadra’s firm applied for change of land use licence (known as LOI/licence in official circle) which he was awarded on March 28, 2008. Within months, Vadra entered into a sale agreement with DLF for Rs 58 crore for the same land and received the first instalment of Rs 5 crore on June 3, 2008. Subsequently, he got three more cheques of Rs 10 crore, Rs 35 crore and Rs 8 crore on March 27, 2009, November 7, 2009 and July 25, 2012 respectively. All these payment details, including the cheque numbers, were mentioned in the sale deed which was signed and registered with the Manesar sub-registrar on September 18, 2012. After reading the document, the sub-registrar could have easily detected the fact that the land which was bought on February 12, 2008, for Rs 7.5 crore was sold to DLF for Rs 58 crore by June 3, 2008, and the first instalment of the money was also paid to Vadra by then,” the report further says.
An opinion piece in The Pioneer has said that if Vadra is a private citizen, then he and his family should explain their deals and not the Congress party.
“It is strange that senior Congress ministers and party leaders should have rushed head over heels to defend the controversial dealings of Robert Vadra, a private citizen. It shows the party’s sycophantic nature,” The Pioneer says.
Meanwhile, a report in Mint has sought to question the Congress’ claim that Vadra is a private citizen.
“The argument may not be a tenable one, say legal and financial experts, citing international law and even a circular issued by the central bank. None of the people wanted to be identified given Vadra’s position,” the report says.
“The experts point to India being a full signatory to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering, which clearly defines a “Politically Exposed Person” (PEP) and the set of people who qualify to be PEPs and cannot, therefore, be treated merely as private citizens,” the report goes on to say.
A local Jaipur court has taken cognizance of a complaint against Vadra “for his reported comment ‘mango man in banana republic’ on a social networking site”, the Press Trust of India reported.
Lawyer A.C. Upadhyay “has sought action against Vadra under sections 121-A (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) and 500 and 501 (defamation) of IPC (Indian Penal Code)”, the report said.
Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka on Thursday said that anyone having any objection to his recent order cancelling the land deal of Robert Vadra and realty giant DLF could move the high court as per law, the Hindustan Times newspaper said in a report.
“To the question on the letter written by TC Gupta, director, town and country planning department, to Chaudhery terming Khemka’s order as incorrect, he said that the same was ‘red herring’ to divert the real issues,” the report said.
Action by civil servants can do much more to check corruption than activists’ movements against it, journalist Sandipan Deb has said in an opinion piece in Mint, while commenting on IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s stand against Vadra’s land deals.
“Corporation Bank chairman and managing director Ajai Kumar on Thursday said no funds by way of loan or overdraft has been given to Robert Vadra, son-in-law of UPA chairperson and Congress president Sonia Gandhi,” The Hindu Business Line reported.
Replying to a question as to whether the public sector bank had given over Rs.7.5 crore to Vadra, who is currently embroiled in a controversy over a real estate deal with housing major DLF Group in Haryana, he reiterated the bank’s position: “We have already denied it. There is nothing new to add. We don’t have any documents whatsoever to comment on this issue.”
In an opinion piece, Mint’s editor R. Sukumar has said that Arvind Kejriwal is changing the rules of politics as his strategy is suited to the information age.
“...in some ways, his current role, as a conduit for and amplifier of information on the deals and dealings of ministers and politicians—Kejriwal himself calls them the ruling class—is a continuation of his earlier role as an advocate for and evangelist of the Right to Information legislation, one that brought him fame and a won him a Magsaysay award,” the piece said.
“I see Kejriwal as India’s Julian Assange; only unlike Assange’s strong anti-system objectives, his own are somewhere between highlighting the gaps in people managing the current system and presenting himself as an objective. Wikileaks was built around the documents it leaked and Kejriwal has stressed, more than once, that there are a large number of documents that IAC has received (and continues to receive),” the piece goes on to say.
“A 58-crore land deal in Haryana between businessman Robert Vadra and real estate giant DLF was cancelled earlier this week, but the commercial license that was the heart of the deal is still in Mr Vadra’s name, said a senior government official today, emphasizing that this is in keeping with rules,” NDTV news channel said in a report.
“The head of Haryana’s Town and Country Planning Department, T.C. Gupta, told NDTV today that the license is still in Mr Vadra’s name, though the land was transferred to DLF last month till Mr Khemka cancelled the transaction on Monday. Mr Gupta said that that because formalities have yet to be completed, the license has not been transferred to DLF yet. He refuted allegations that licensing guidelines had been skewed for Mr Vadra,” the report said.
“ IAS officer Ashok Khemka’s decision to take his grievances to the media does not seem to have gone down well with the government,” The Times of India said in a report.
“Citing the All India Services (Conduct) Rules 1968, an official said, “The IAS officer has violated the rule by approaching media. The Haryana government is, therefore, well within its right to initiate disciplinary proceedings against him.” Rule 7 prohibits any IAS officer from approaching the media in any way “which has the effect of an adverse criticism of any current or recent policy or action of the central government or a state government”,” the report said.
IAS officers in Haryana are turning against each other in the wake of the Robert Vadra-DLF deal revelations, CNN-IBN news channel has said in a report.
“Town and Country Planning head T.C. Gupta has defended the deal and said action should be taken against transferred IAS officer Ashok Khemka, the former Director General of Land Consolidation. Gupta has written against Khemka’s observations. Khemka had in his order dated 11 October cancelled the mutation of the sale deed between Vadra’s company Sky Light Hospitality and DLF over a 3.5-acre plot in Gurgaon district. Khemka had cited a violation of the states consolidation act. Gupta now says Khemka had no grounds for objecting, accusing him of ignorance about the transfer of property act. In his letter to the chief secretary of Haryana,” the report says.
“Sanskrit poems tell us that mango buds lend sweetness to the cuckoo’s voice. Why is Robert Vadra striking a discordant note?,” Shyamal Majumdar asks in a piece in Business Standard.
“Going by his watermelon-sized biceps, which he didn’t mind showing off on his now-deactivated Facebook album, Robert Vadra is quite unlike a majority of the “mango people” who think that accumulation of wealth and midriff bulge have to go together. The rippling muscles that the flamboyant businessman loves to flaunt (for proof, do a search on Google Images) is also a testimony to the fact that he is doing full justice to his daily intake of fresh fruits -- grapevine has it that apple, mango and banana are his favourites, in that order. One only wishes he had done a return favour to the last two by not involving them in his public spat with Arvind Kejriwal and Co. For, one thing is certain after his mindless remarks on Facebook: Vadra is anything but the apple of the aam admi’s eyes after he termed “banana republic” the country his in-laws have been ruling for so long. It’s clear why he is on very slippery grounds,” the piece goes on to say.
“When Robert Vadra’s company came to the office of Manesar sub-registrar on 18 September this year to register the sale deed (no. 1435) with DLF Universal of the 3.53-acre land that he had bought in Shikohpur in February 2008, the officer was well aware that the value of this land had shot up by almost eight times from Rs 7.5 crore to Rs 58 crore in just four month,” The Economic Times newspaper has said in a report.
“The land was bought by Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitalityon 12 February 2008 for Rs 7.5 crore. Immediately after that Vadra’s firm applied for change of land use licence (known as LOI/licence in official circle) which he was awarded on 28 March 2008. Within months, he entered into a sale agreement with DLF for Rs 58 crore for the same land and received the first installment of Rs 5 crore on 3 June 2008. Subsequently, he got three more cheques of Rs 10 crore, Rs 35 crore and Rs 8 crore on 27 March 2009, 7 November 2009 and 25 July 2012 respectively,” the report notes.
“Gurgaon district magistrate P. C. Meena on Wednesday claimed the state government did not lose any revenue in the Robert Vadra-DLF land deals. He said the land was registered in the revenue records at much higher prices than the prevailing circle rates in 2008 as well as later in 2012,” Hindustan Times said in a report.
“Meena also clarified that assistant consolidation officers in Haryana were empowered to sanction the mutation. Shochand, sarpanch of Shikohpur village, also claimed that the farmers carried no grudge against anyone as they had sold their land to many land bankers from one of whom Robert Vadra must have purchased the 3.5-acre plot just off the National Highway No.8 in 2008,” the report further said.
An opinion piece in Rediff.com asks why “the Nehru Dynasty’s usual Teflon isn’t working for Robert Vadra” or why the “Congress’s code of Omerta” did not apply to Vadra.
“It s interesting that the normal code of the Congress party—absolute fealty to the Nehru dynasty— seems to have fallen by the wayside in the case of poor Robert Vadra. Newspapers are being allowed to question how Robert came by his millions, and the story of his Facebook gaffe re aam aadmi has gone viral. This is startling, because anybody associated with the dynasty normally gets the puff-piece/kid-gloves treatment in the craven English-Language Media,” the piece says.
“We have seen this not only in the case of genuine, bona fide relatives of Jawaharlal Nehru but even with peripheral players (especially if they are white)—for instance, Ottavio Quattrocchi: he was allowed to skip town, his assets were unfrozen by the law ministry, and the Indian authorities ‘did not even present proper legal documents’ to extradite him, according to an Argentinian judge. In other words, complete Omerta, the code of silence as used by the mafia,” the piece further says.
“Why? Enquiring minds want to know. I have no idea, but I have two conjectures: one is that Vadra is being sacrificed so that his relatively small scam (only Rs.500 crore. Yes, only!) can be used to divert attention away from the mega-scams (Coalgate, Thorium, Adarsh, CWG, 2G, Air India handicapgate, and so on, ad nauseam). And it is working: all these others have disappeared from the front pages. The second conjecture is more complex: that Vadra is seen as a threat to the dynasty scion du jour. There is a long history of those in that unhappy position suddenly losing their jobs (think Sitaram Kesri and the Toilet Revolution), or finding themselves very dead. It’s clearly not good for your health to be perceived as a possible challenger, however remote,” the piece goes on to say.
Congress leader Digvijay Singh has said that former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval “is behind” the attack on Sonia and Rahul Gandhi and Robert Vadra, The Indian Express has said in a report.
“He hit out at the BJP and Delhi-based Vivekanand International Foundation being run by a clutch of former intelligence officials and RSS swayamsevaks for planning the controversy. The Congress leader named former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, who is the director of the Foundation, RSS swayamsevak S. Gurumurthy and Subramanian Swamy for “plotting totally baseless and concocted stories” against the Nehru-Gandhi family in the social media. He accused some people in the media for “taking it upon themselves to promote Arvind Kejriwal”,” the report said.
In an opinion piece in Mint , media critic Sevanti Ninan has said that Kejriwal now has to move beyond personalities.
“If Arvind Kejriwal’s disclosures got mileage because they had a range of media as amplifier, the man and his team did the media a return favour, forcing the fourth estate to rediscover its investigative instincts by throwing them periodic bones that they could hardly ignore,” Ninan said.
“Even the initially unwilling, including the Hindustan Times and The Indian Express, had to react with more details of the controversy emerging. These papers have had to take note of the Ashok Khemka transfer, disclosed on 16 October by The Hindu. On Wednesday, Hindustan Times came up with the Haryana chief minister’s hand in the land use change. We now have to see where that will lead us,” the piece further said.
In another opinion piece, Mint has said that Kejriwal’s ‘name and shame’ politics will need follow-up and that his “half-way activism” is not enough.
“Even as the anti-corruption activists rejoice in uncovering newer scams, the law of unintended consequences kicks in and the Commonwealth Games scam, the 2G scam and the coal block allocation scam are displaced by sensational new disclosures. If any real change has to come out of any or all of these busts, that sequence needs to be interrupted. Somewhere in between, each of these scams need to be investigated thoroughly and meticulously and responsibility assigned,” the piece said.
After Robert Vadra, Rahul Gandhi too could come under some media scrutiny in relation to his financial deals.
“Former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala on Wednesday accused Rahul Gandhi of tax evasion in land purchase in a village in Palwal district,” Firstpost.com said in a story.
“Rahul Gandhi purchased a piece of land measuring around 6.5 acre in Hasanpur village in Palwal district of Haryana in March 2008. He resorted to tax evasion in it. Rahul bought this land at the rate of Rs 1.5 lakh per acre as mentioned in the land registration deed even as its valuation by the government at that time was Rs 8 lakh per acre,” Chautala told a press conference, according to the report.
“He said the government value of the land given to Gandhi at the rate of Rs 1.5 lakh per acre was Rs 8 lakh per acre while its market value was much more at Rs 35 lakh per acre. In a point by point rebuttal, Gandhi’s office said in Delhi that he had purchased 51 Kanal 13 Marla ( 6.456 acres) of Sailab Land in Hassanpur Village, Tehsil Hodal, District Palwal in Haryana,” the report further said.
“Arvind Kejriwal’s charges against Robert Vadra have earned him praise from Sangh Parivar’s mouthpiece Organiser for breaking the “unwritten code of silence” by striking at the “raw nerve” in the Congress,” The Indian Express said in a report.
“The latest issue of Organiser carries a cover story providing details of Kejriwal’s charges. “Vadra’s wealth, Congress in turmoil: Is Sonia family getting its just desserts, finally?” wonders a headline. Alleging that the deals between Vadra and real estate firms were “illegal transactions and malafide nexus” the articles seek to highlight that an ordinary citizen could not have availed similar deals,” the report goes on to say.
After targeting Vadra, law minister Salman Khurshid and BJP president Nitin Gadkari, Kejriwal could target more political heavyweights in the coming days, Mint said.
“Thanks to blanket coverage by television channels – the 5.00 pm press conference at New Delhi’s Constitution Club may have well been among the most watched on Indian TV—everyone knows what Kejriwal & Co don’t stand for, although not everyone gets the real message, said an analyst,” Mint said.
The Hindu newspaper has said that new documents “show clear and undeniable links between the sudden transfer of senior IAS official Ashok Khemka and his initiation of a probe specifically related to Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and his companies, contrary to the Haryana government’s attempts to establish that the two events were unrelated.”
“... the internal documents confirm that Khemka’s first meeting on subject, which led eventually to the now highly controversial order cancelling the mutation of a key land transfer from Vadra to the real estate giant, DLF, was held on 8 October itself, where the sale deed of village Shikohpur and the mutation papers were called for and examined in the presence of district officials,” the report said.
“The reference to the 8 October meeting with other officials is made in passing in an internal memo signed by Ashok Khemka on 15 October which set out in brief the background to the order cancelling mutation he issued the same day,” the report further said.
An indirect official inquiry has been instituted for the first time into Robert Vadra’s land deals in Haryana following an allegation by an IAS officer that he was shunted out for ordering a probe, news website Newsbullet.in reports.
“The Congress-ruled Haryana government today announced a three-member inquiry committee, headed by the additional chief secretary. The panel was not constituted specifically to inquire into Vadra’s deals but they will be covered since it will look into the probe ordered by Ashok Khemka, the IAS officer, as well his statements to the media. The panel has been asked to file its report within a month,” the report said.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra is now in a fix to explain the overdraft in his balance sheet, CNN-IBN news channel said in a report.
“Sources close to Vadra now say no loan was taken from the Corporation Bank, so there was no question of any overdraft. Sources add it is a standard practice to issue cheques of higher values than what’s there in an account, if there is possibility of that amount coming into the account at a later stage,” the report said.
“The big question now is that if Vadra’s company Sky Light hospitality wasn’t taking or repaying loan to Corporation Bank, what was the need to issue a cheque to a third party for 7.94 crore? Also, how did Vadra pay this sum of Rs 7.94 crore? Did the party to whom he paid the cheque of Rs 7.94 crore really encash the cheque? Sky Light will also have to answer as to how it showed an overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore from Corporation Bank in the balance sheet,” the report further added.
“It was Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who had cleared the change of land use allowing a company, owned by Robert Vadra, to begin commercial activity barely a month after it purchased farmland in Gurgaon in 2008,” a report in the Hindustan Times newspaper has said.
“The 3.5 acres of land has triggered the storm following the cancellation of the deal between Vadra and real estate major DLF on Monday by an IAS officer in the state land registration department,” the report noted.
“Official documents, possessed by HT, show that Vadra’s company, Sky Light Hospitality, purchased the land at Shikohpur village in Gurgaon for Rs. 7.5 crore on 12 February 2008 and sought permission to develop a commercial colony on the land. And the Hooda government promptly granted the permission on March 21, 2008. Surprisingly, within three months of getting the permission, Sky Light Hospitality signed a deal to sell the same plot for Rs. 58 crore to DLF —nearly eight times the price at which it had purchased the land,” the report further said.
Business Standard has said that Ashok Khemka’s order cancelling DLF’s land mutation in Haryana may not be legally tenable.
“The cancellation might not hold good as Khemka was already sent a transfer order before that, pointed out an official. Haryana chief secretary Pradeep Kumar Chaudhary defended Khemka’s transfer as a decision taken by the Haryana government in compliance with a Punjab and Haryana high court order dated 1 October. According to a Haryana government spokesperson, Khemka wanted to be relieved from the post of special collector. Since the court wanted the government to take a quick decision on filling the special collector’s position, usually held jointly by the land consolidation director general, Khemka was transferred, the state government said.Officials hinted Khemka might not have been the competent authority to cancel a land mutation suo motu,” the report noted.
Rajasthan Congress legislators led by parliamentary secretary Rajendra Singh Bidhuri have demanded removal of cabinet minister Bharat Singh, accusing him of nursing anti-Gandhi family sentiments and challenging the party high command’s decisions, The Times of India has said in a report.
“The party’s 10 legislators have written a letter to Sonia, targeting Singh for his alleged remarks made at the Congress legislative party (CLP) meeting last week. The letter points out that minister Singh allegedly objected to the suggestion that the Congress legislators ought to defend Sonia’s son-in-law Robert Vadra should the opposition BJP target him in the state assembly. It is alleged that Singh objected to the suggestion saying it was Sonia family’s personal matter and the party should not be involved in it,” the report said.
“Alleging that Robert Vadra used his ‘connections’ with the Gandhi family to accumulate wealth and commit other improprieties, Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy on Tuesday questioned Arvind Kejriwal for restricting his expose to Vadra only and not attacking the Congress president on the issue,” the Indian Express newspaper said in a report.
“Swamy also took to task Kejriwal for restricting his expose only against Vadra to score points through media and not going to the court to nail the Congress president’s son-in-law if at all he wanted to root out corruption from the political system,” the report added.
“Senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who was transferred by the Haryana government after he ordered an investigation into the land deals between Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and realty major DLF, on Tuesday said that he suspected that the Punjab and Haryana high court order was used as a pretext to transfer him out,” CNN-IBN news channel said.
“Earlier, the Haryana government was forced to order an investigation into the Vadra-DLF Manesar land deal worth Rs 58 crore after Khemka cancelled the land mutation saying it violated the consolidation act of the states. However, the Bhupinder Singh Hooda government questioned Khemka’s decision to scrap the deal without giving the affected parties a chance to give their version,” the report further added.
Firstpost.com has asked in an opinion piece if ‘Vadragate’ is turning out to be Sonia Gandhi’s ‘Bofors.’
“The impact of this (Bofors) on the Congress party was huge. It lost the 1989 election to an alliance of Janata Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Rajiv Gandhi had to become the leader of the opposition. A party which had more than three-fourths of the seats in the Lok Sabha was thrown out of power,” the piece notes.
“It is often said that ‘perception is reality’. Rajiv Gandhi losing the 1989 Lok Sabha election because people ‘thought’ he was involved in the Bofors scandal and may have received a part of the kickbacks. And this perception was formed after his government stonewalled all attempts at bringing the guilty to book. A similar situation seems to be now brewing up in the Robert Vadra-DLF case. A string of lawyer ministers from the Congress have jumped into the ring in order to defend Robert Vadra and would like the world at large to believe that there is no truth in accusations being hurled at Vadra (and indirectly Sonia Gandhi) by Arvind Kejriwal and his associates,” the piece goes on to say.
“Senior Haryana IAS officer Ashok Khemka, who is in the news following controversy over land deals involving Robert Vadra, is receiving threat calls from unknown people,” Firstpost.com says in another report.
“The callers asked him to desist or else he would be eliminated. He further told me that those threatening him also talked about having given a ‘supari’ to eliminate him,” the report cited lawyer Anupam Gupta as saying.
DLF paid almost two times the market price for a plot of land it bought from Robert Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality, in Gurgaon in 2008-09, claim real estate analysts and property brokers, The Economic Times newspaper has said.
“In a press release issued by DLF on Saturday, the company had said it bought a 3.5-acre plot at village Sikohpur, Gurgaon district at FSI (floor sale index) cost of Rs 2,800 per sq ft. It also claimed that the price of this property has significantly appreciated, benefitting both the company and its shareholders. But analysts, property brokers and landowners say land in that area in 2008-09 did not cost more than Rs 1,500 per sq ft. They say that the current price of commercial FSI in the area is Rs 2,500 per sq ft, while land touching the highway costs Rs 3,000 per sq ft,” the report said.
Meanwhile, The Hindu newspaper has said that the transferred officer, Ashok Khemka, has protested his eviction from the post of Haryana’s Director-General of Land Consolidation and Land Records-cum-Inspector-General of Registration in writing, alleging mala fide.
“Though he had no option but to accept the marching orders, Mr. Khemka issued an order on his last day in office on October 15 cancelling the mutation of a 3.531-acre plot of land in Manesar-Shikohpur that Mr. Vadra had sold to DLF for Rs. 58 crore,” the report notes.
“Three days earlier, pursuant to the probe he had already initiated, Mr. Khemka issued a letter formally ordering an inquiry across four districts into the “alleged under-valuation of some properties registered by Shri Robert Vadra or his companies as vendor or vendee.” His letter took note of IAC’s allegations and reports in the media. Based on the preliminary details uncovered by the inquiry in the case of at least one of those properties, Mr. Khemka cancelled the mutation of the 3.531- acre plot that Mr. Vadra’s company, M/s Sky Light Hospitality, had sold to DLF Universal Ltd on September 18, 2012. He did so on the grounds that the mutation violated the States Consolidation Act and was done not by a revenue officer but by the Assistant Consolidation Officer of Gurgaon who was not authorised to do so. (EA4/2012/4620-4621 dated 15 October, 2012),” the report notes.
A report in Business Standard has detailed how a DLF controlled entity linked to Vadra underwent several rounds of restructuring, which the report calls “curious.”
“First, the partner — a private company — and the partnership shared the name. Then, the partner gave up its name. After this, the partnership gave up its structure and changed into a limited company and took the name vacated by the partner. This head-spinning restructuring was part of realty major DLF’s business dealings with Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi,” the report says.
“Saket Courtyard Hospitality, the joint venture (JV) between Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality and the DLF group, has taken three different avatars in the past three years. According to the annual report for the year 2010-11, there were two entities by the same name. The first was Saket Courtyard Hospitality Pvt Ltd, a 100 per cent subsidiary of DLF. (The 2009 annual report says this company was originally known as DLF Saket Hotels.) The second entity was Saket Courtyard Hospitality, a partnership firm,” it goes on to say.
Another Business Standard story questions whether a Corporation Bank cheque that Vadra’s company Sky Light issued, was actually ever presented.
“What stops you from writing a cheque for Rs 7.94 crore, if you are sure the payee won’t present it for payment? Nothing, really, not even the fact that your bank account has a balance of Rs 1 lakh or less. It is this confidence that seemed to have helped the Robert Vadra-promoted Sky Light Hospitality to write one or more cheques amounting to Rs 7.94 crore and account that as “book overdraft” in its balance sheet for the year ended March 31, 2008. A book overdraft is not an overdraft at a bank but an excess of outstanding cheques on a company’s books over its reported bank balance,” the report says.
“However, it is not clear who sold the land to Sky Light. It is also not clear if the licences were granted after Sky Light took possession of the land. But if the licences were received earlier, that would raise a question over why the seller sold the land at the price he did. If that price was right then why would DLF pay four times that sum a few months down the line? Vadra did not respond to queries in this regard emailed to his private secretary,” the report goes on to say.
“Nearly three years after realty major DLF cited industry practice to give UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra a R50 crore interest-free advance for a 3.5 acre plot in Manesar in Haryana, the company has finally got unencumbered possession of the land,” the Financial Express newspaper said in a report.
“The land was ‘conveyanced’ in the name of the real estate firm last month, and DLF has now paid Vadra the balance R8 crore,” the report said.
“While DLF has not been able to cite other instances of where interest-free advances have been given, and over such long periods of time, a perusal of the books of various Vadra firms shows he used the advance to make other investments, including in several DLF properties. Interestingly, DLF officials who first said the company had got the plot in 2008-09, the year in which it gave Vadra the advance, now argue the firm saved money by not getting the property from Vadra earlier,” the report added.
“ A senior IAS officer in Haryana government’s Land Registration Department was transferred for reportedly cancelling the mutation of a 3.531 acre plot of land in Manesar-Shikohpur that Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra sold to DLF for Rs 58 crore in 2009,” news channel CNN-IBN reported.
“Senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka was transferred as the DG Haryana Seed Development Corporation, three days after he ordered a probe into the land deals between Vadra and DLF on 8 October. Before leaving office, on October 15, Khemka cancelled the mutation of the land, citing irregularities in the transfer of land from Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality Private Limited to the real estate giant,” the news report said.
In an opinion piece Firstpost.com has said that the Congress party cannot let law minister Salman Khurshid resign because doing that would shift the spotlight back on Robert Vadra.
“The party fears that if Khurshid is made to resign now, it would unwittingly be giving credit to Arvind Kejriwal and a media house against whom Khurshid has filed a Rs 100 crore defamation suit. Moreover, if the Khurshid case moves off prime time, the focus would return to the Robert Vadra issue and open the flood gates to similar demands against other ministers,” the piece notes.
“Even as holes were being punched in Khurshid’s defence from various quarters, the Congress is under pressure on all fronts. Senior leaders may publicly be putting up a brave front, but internally, the “expose” comes at a time when the results of two Lok Sabha bypolls have already rattled the Congress. In the Jangipur parliamentary seat in West Bengal, President Pranab Mukherjee‘s son Abhijit barely scraped through with a narrow victory margin of 2,536 votes, and in the Tehri seat in Uttarakhand, chief minister Vijay Bahuguna’s son lost to the BJP,” the piece goes on to say.
Rediff.com has tried to analyse how the Vadra episode is playing out on social networking site Twitter.
“No sooner than budding politico Arvind Kejriwal break the unspoken consensus among mainstream political parties and charged Robert Vadra with a get-rich-quick scheme using realty giant DLF, Twitter has been abuzz with savage humour on the country’s first son-in-law,” the piece said, as it went on to detail some of the more interesting tweets.
An editorial in the India Today magazine has commented on Vadra’s sense of humour and what the controversy means for the Gandhi family.
“The seasoned wit and raconteur Robert Vadra believes that Indians do not have a sense of humour. That may or may not be true, but it is distinctly better than having no sense at all,” it says.
“Humour is complicated. One man’s wit is so easily another’s insult. Folklore, and general conversation, indicate that Indians are pretty good at both murky ethnic jokes as well as the noble habit of laughing at the powerful. How would you rate this SMS that raced around after details about Vadra’s triumphant rise as the most famous real estate dealer in Indian history went public? Rahul Gandhi despairingly told his Mummy, ‘First CWG, then 2G, then Coal-G. And now it’s Jijaji.’ Not bad. That Jijaji has just the nice twang that serves so well in north Indian chai shop chat,” the piece goes on to say.
“This is the first time since Bofors in the 1980s when the Gandhi family is being charged with corruption, and mud is turning into glue. The Commonwealth scandal involved Congress leaders, but not at the high rungs; during telecom, Congress managed to distance itself and direct blame towards an ally, DMK. Coalgate was harder but the responsibility went to the government and the Prime Minister. Robert Vadra is family. The Vadra crisis has also damaged the Congress effort to shift the debate from corruption to economic reforms. The principal attention is back on sleaze,” the piece further notes.
Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, had bought as many as 41 premium apartments from DLF Ltd, but subsequently sold most of them at a profit, The Economic Times said in a report.
“All the apartments were acquired by companies promoted by him, including Sky Light Hospitality—which had dealings with DLF—by paying a minimum booking amount, with the exception of a luxury pad in the picturesque Aralias, for which he paid the entire sum of Rs.11.9 crore upfront,” the report added.
“Most of these apartments were bought for the purpose of trading as Vadra sold around 38 of these 41 apartments subsequently, said a DLF executive. A DLF spokesman confirmed Vadra had bought these apartments in the three projects. He also said that the client had later paid around Rs.7 crore as delayed payment charges,” the report went on to say.
DLF is not the only real estate company that lends to partners and loans, and advances account for as much as a fourth of India’s top real estate majors, Business Standard has said in a report.
In 2011-12, loans and advances accounted for nearly a quarter of the consolidated assets of India’s top real estate companies. DLF is, in fact, better placed than many of its peers, as loans and advances accounted for 18% of its consolidated assets during the last fiscal year, against Unitech Ltd’s 51%, Sobha Developers Ltd’s 47%, Godrej Properties Ltd’s 32% and Housing Development and Infrastructure Ltd’s 28 per cent,” the report says.
“The total outstanding loans and advances of India’s top 12 listed real estate companies were around Rs.30,000 crore at the end of FY12, a threefold jump from Rs.10,600 crore at the end of FY07. During the same period, DLF’s loans and advances doubled to around Rs.10,000 crore from Rs.5,233 crore at the end of FY07,” the report adds.
Journalist Seema Mustafa, in an opinion piece in DNA newspaper has commented on how the Vadra episode could signal the “fall of the first family”.
“Robert Vadra is an important man. He is the son-in-law of the Congress party’s first, all powerful Nehru-Gandhi family. He walks with full security cover, denied even to persons on the death list of terror groups like General Brar who was recently attacked in London where he was travelling in a bus without even one guard behind him. Vadra has full clearance, denied to Prime Minister and ministers, to return from foreign travels without security or custom clearance. And till recently, he has enjoyed full freedom to make money and more money with the assurance that if questions are asked, the entire Congress party and the government will come out batting for him,” she says.
“There is that old tale where dust turns into gold with a touch. Well King Midas did transfer some of this to the Nehru-Gandhi family in the first term of their government, but more recently the reverse holds true — gold is turning into dust with their one touch. Rae Bareilly and Amethi, the long held captive constituencies for the first family, seem to be revolting and murmurs suggest a possible rout for the Congress in the next general elections. Priyanka has not been able to still the whispers, and seems to have lost much of the sheen she held for the rural electorate here. Rahul Gandhi is just not able to launch himself. The Uttar Pradesh fiasco sent him indoors, and he emerged recently to woo Kashmir, but it all went awry, with students raising black flags outside the guarded hall, and sarpanches walking out of a meeting with him. Sonia Gandhi rushed to Haryana to atone for the Congress state government’s indifference to the spate of crimes against women. But instead of earning brownie points, she found herself in the midst of a controversy with another victim of heinous rape wondering why she had been ignored by the Congress president. Was it because she had been raped by Jats, and not by Dalits like the other girl, and the Congress did not want to alienate this vote bank, she asked rather pertinently. The stars are certainly not shining for the Nehru-Gandhi family, with their personal fortunes waning with the Congress party. Hard realisation that a sound byte no longer works, and a wave here and a smile there can no longer convince an electorate reeling under corruption, inflation, price rise and insecuritym,” she goes on to add.
“DLF, the country’s biggest property developer, was likely to suffer no material impact from accusations by Arvind Kejriwal and his India Against Corruption (IAC) of improper dealings, and the issue had been largely priced in to the stock, said UBS, the financial services group,” a Reuters report has said.
“UBS added the allegations against DLF would be difficult to investigate given the issues were “politically motivated” and had happened three to four years ago. The linkage of politicians with real estate developers had been a common concern in the sector, it added,” the report added.
In an opinion piece The Economic Times has said that it would tough for the Congress party to distance itself from the Vadra controversy considering how its ministers had gone all out to defend him.
“History has little comfort to offer the Congress as it hunkers down to assess the political damage from the Robert Vadra story. Past scandals involving members of the first family have led to devastating electoral losses and a split in the ranks. There’s nothing to suggest that things will be different this time, despite loud protestations that Vadra is a private citizen,” the piece says.
“It’s too late now for the Congress to distance itself. By fanning out its ministers across television channels to defend him, the party ended up owning Vadra. Emotional statements like law minister Salman Khurshid’s merely confirmed the image. Khurshid swore to lay down his life for the family. When it realised the political implications of this high-pitched defence, the Congress quickly withdrew the ministers. But the damage was done. In the public mind, the equation was set: Vadra = Gandhi family = Congress,” the piece adds.
“The campaign against Khurshid builds on and provides momentum to Team Kejriwal’s enormously successful expose of Sonia Gandhi‘s son-in-law Robert Vadra‘s real estate dealings with DLF. Although on that occasion too, the core allegation had been in the public domain for more than a year, Kejriwal added layers of additional information to it, and elevated the pitch, compelling ministers and other assorted Sonia Gandhi loyalists to come out swinging in defence of Vadra – thereby showing up the hollowness of their own claim that Vadra was a private individual,” Firstpost.com said in another piece.
“By placing Vadra’s dealings with DLF – which reek of influence-peddling with benefits accruing to both Vadra and DLF – in the public domain once again, Kejriwal has also opened up further cracks in the narrative put out by DLF and the Union ministers who have been chirping on behalf of Vadra,” the piece goes on to say.
In another piece, The Economic Times has commented on how the real estate sector in India has become synonymous with bribes and black money.
“Rarely does Whatever the Odds, the autobiography of K.P. Singh, the patriarch of real estate powerhouse DLF, break this pattern. Nearly every account that emerges from the book, which chronicles the explosive growth of a fledgling property player into India’s biggest real estate company, is out of the ordinary. Singh writes about his perseverance despite running foul of a powerful politician, his vision to transform Gurgaon into a “boom city”, his “doing business the hard way” in a land of archaic laws and yes, how he “cheated death” on five occasions, no less. There are also many glowing references to Singh’s business practice,” the piece notes.
In a front page story, Business Standard has detailed how, despite fewer Gurgaon based projects in hand, DLF is still the dominant real estate player in the region.
“Between 1981 and 1990, DLF got 57 of the 101 realty project licences awarded in Gurgaon — about 56% of the total. In the same period, Ansal Properties, another prime player in this market, held 32 project licences in Gurgaon. Switch to 2012, and things are quite different. DLF was issued just eight of the 73 licences for Gurgaon in 2012. In 2011, too, the number was low for the country’s largest realty player — it was issued six licences by Town and Country Planning, Haryana, of the total of 84 for Gurgaon. Another prominent player in Gurgaon, Unitech, was issued four licences from 1980-90, and it got one in 2012 and two in 2011 in the region, according to data available with analysts,” the report says.
“While the numbers point at DLF’s near-monopoly getting diluted with the emergence of new developers such as Bestech, SRS, Godrej, Tata Housing, Sobha Developers and M3M in the region, it’s only partially the case. DLF still holds the first-mover advantage in the region, say analysts, while pointing at its significant land bank. It may not have been launching many projects lately, but it has ‘latent capacity’, observers say,” the report goes on to say.
Robert Vadra is a director in as many as 12 companies, six of which were started this year, The Times of India has said.
“There is still no clarity if Corporation Bank ever extended an over-draft facility to a company controlled by Robert Vadra. However, it is confirmed that the Mangalore-based nationalised bank was among the favourite financial institutions of the controversial son-in-law of the Congress’s first family,” the report has said.
“Vadra is a director or an additional director in 12 companies, according to the ministry of corporate affairs. Of them, six firms were incorporated only this year, so they haven’t yet filed their first balance sheets along with reports from the directors, auditors, etc., with the registrar of company affairs. Of the other six firms, which have been in existence for longer period, their preferred banks were Corporation Bank and Standard Chartered,” the report goes on to say.
“Breaking his silence on the allegations against Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, chief minister Narendra Modi on Saturday taunted the party saying while the entire Cabinet rushed to defend the “jamai raja”, no one came to the rescue of Porbandar MP who was caught on camera brandishing a gun at a toll plaza,” The Indian Express said in a report.
Meanwhile, media-watch website The Hoot has said in a commentary that the media has treated the Vadra issue with “kid gloves.”
“Two axioms were tested over the last seven or eight days. One, everybody is fair game for the media barring the Nehru-Gandhis. And two, increasingly media outlets leave the investigation of alleged wrongdoing to whistleblowers. They are content to be platforms on which charges are traded or rebutted, or eloquent wrap-up story writers. On television they thunder and badger panellists, getting their ammunition from the whistleblowers or the follow up stories in newspapers and websites. That is pretty much what Arnab Goswami and Karan Thapar among others did,” the piece said.
“The advent of whistleblowers has seen journalists step back from what used to be a journalistic responsibility in another age, to becoming platforms where the attacking and the attacked trade charges. Arvind Kejriwal, Prashant Bhushan and company targeted Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra at a press conference on 5 October, making revelations about what looked like a sweetheart deal between him and the real estate giant Delhi Land and Finance. As the coverage unfolded it became clear that this was no ordinary story—it had tossed a direct challenge to an estate which often has trouble subjecting the Congress party’s first family to the same scrutiny that it subjects others in politics. Over the past week media outlets fell into two categories: those who thought the accusations levelled against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law deserved further investigation, and those who were content to simply report what was coming out. And not even particularly prominently,” it noted.
13 October 2012
In a cover story, Open magazine has traced the history of the Vadra family and how they had allegedly tried to misuse their position after Robert’s marriage to Priyanka Gandhi.
“At the time of his marriage, Vadra was 28 and ran a costume jewellery export firm called Artex in Delhi, having broken away from his father Rajindra Vadra’s brass export business. The Vadheras, as they once spelt their family name, were originally from Sialkot (now in Pakistan), and had set up a brass business seven years after partition in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh. Back in undivided Punjab, Robert’s grandfather Hukumat Rai Vadhera ran a sports goods business, but moved to Karnataka immediately after partition and set up Mysore Electroplating. From metal coating, the family moved into metal exports, setting up base in Moradabad, where they took the surname ‘Vadra’, and as their business did well, they got themselves a house in Delhi,” the magazine notes.
“In the first edition of his book on Sonia Gandhi (the material is missing in subsequent editions), journalist Rashid Kidwai notes that five years after the Robert-Priyanka marriage, Sonia had to caution party leaders not to have anything to do with ‘close relatives of Robert Vadra’. Sonia Gandhi’s directive came after Vadra had issued a public notice severing ties with his family,” the story goes on to say.
The Bharatiya Janata Party has accused Vadra of “fudging” his company’s balance sheet, The Economic Times newspaper reports.
“The opposition has seized upon a statement from Corporation Bank, that it did not provide an overdraft of Rs7.94 crore to Sky Light Hospitality, controlled by Robert Vadra, to demand legal action against Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, accusing him of ‘fudging’ his company’s balance sheet,” the report says.
Firstpost.com has said that even discounting the controversy surrounding Robert Vadra, the DLF stock is likely to be under pressure.
“... there are strong rumours going around that the brokerages are getting their real estate analysts to call up their biggest clients and recommending them to slowly sell out of the DLF stock. This may, to a certain extent, explain why the stock price of the company has fallen so fast the previous Friday,” the piece says.
“... the fact that DLF might have major political risk going with it has only recently been identified and registered into public perception. But even with that the one big reason investors should stay away from the company is the massive debt that it has on its books. The debt has constantly been building up since the financial year 2007-2008 (the period between 1 April 2007 and 31 March 2008) during which the company decided to re-list on the stock exchange. The debt as on 30 June 2007 was at Rs 10,436.6 crore. This number five years later stands at Rs 25,060 crore, or 140 percent more. The debt of the company has grown at the rate of 19.1 percent on an average every year,” the piece goes on to say.
“DLF Ltd, India’s largest real estate company, has carried out three transactions worth Rs 446 crore with its hotel joint venture since giving Robert Vadra a 50% stake in it for Rs 35 crore in October 2009, an ET (The Economic Times) investigation has uncovered,” The Times Of India said.
“These dealings, many experts say, raise further questions about the depth of the business relationship between DLF, a listed company, and entities owned by the son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi. These transactions find no mention in the documents released in the past week by activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal on the business dealings between DLF and Vadra, which have ignited a political and media firestorm,” the report goes on to say.
“According to DLF annual reports, the first of these three transactions took place in 2009-10, when it sold assets for Rs 150 crore to the 50:50 hotel JV, Saket Courtyard Hospitality. The hotel JV is yet to pay DLF for this transaction,” the report adds.
“Next, in 2011-12, DLF sold development rights—essentially, the rights, with regulatory clearances, to build on a plot of land—for Rs 161 crore to Prowess Buildcon Pvt Ltd, a 100% subsidiary of the hotel JV,” it says. “The third transaction, in the same year, is a Rs 135-crore loan shown in the 2011-12 annual report of DLF,” it further says.
“Will Robert Vadra’s acts besmirch the illustrious family name that may have earned him undue favours?” asks Outlook magazine.
“There is something quite crass about the entire snatch-and-grab-land episode. Rippling muscles, legs astride fancy motorbikes, Vadra has always appeared a bit of an interloper in the first family that is usually associated with a certain elegance and class. But ‘We, the mango people of India’, mostly ignored Vadra outside the small circle in Delhi where rumours about his business deals have been doing the rounds for a while. The larger public never gave the man a thought. Now it seems that the husband to a Gandhi-Nehru, father to the next generation of the dynasty, applied the bodybuilding steroid technique to build his little empire really fast. He just can’t be ignored any longer. His face and form now impose on that cosy family album frame. There is so much history, drama, tragedy attached to the family—even family-baiters grant that. In that grand scheme of a family whose tryst with destiny shaped India’s history, the Vadra episode is just plain tawdry,” the piece says.
“Auditors looking over the balance sheets of Sky Light Hospitality and statements issued by DLF say that when an asset, particularly land, is found to simultaneously belong to two parties, official scrutiny, such as by the income-tax department, often reveals that both parties have accessed bank loans on it,” Outlook says in another report.
“The documents do establish that Vadra’s companies and DLF Ltd had business ties on terms that proved very favourable to the former. Why DLF entered into these contracts without any apparent benefit, and indeed at appreciable loss to its own shareholders, remains unclear,” the report adds.
In yet another piece, Outlook has termed the Vadra controversy “another Bofors moment” for the Congress party.
“The key question in l’affaire Vadra is similar to the key question in l’affaire Bofors. “What services did A.E. Services provide for Ottavio Quattrocchi to swing the deal in favour of Bofors?” Chitra Subramaniam Duella, whose reports from Geneva in The Hindu had exposed the payment of kickbacks, had asked then. It’s a question she still asks. Reframing it for Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra, whose alleged acquisitions through unsecured loans from realty giant DLF have been exposed by anti-corruption campaigner Arvind Kejriwal, she puts it thus: “What services has Vadra rendered to become a millionaire overnight?” As for the denials—from Vadra, DLF, many Union ministers and Congress functionaries—she says, “Then, as now, when denials are disproportionate to the allegations, they raise suspicion”,” the piece says.
“There always have been whispers of what powered the rise and rise of Vadra, who is married to Sonia’s daughter Priyanka and is sometimes referred to as the country’s premier son-in-law, or, as in a recent SMS joke, the FDI—‘First Damaad (son-in-law) of India’. At times, there would be some talk in the newsrooms. Nothing solid came of that. But Kejriwal—stuck though he is in a plan for starting a new political party—came out with company names and figures, underlining his allegations with accounting skills acquired as a former IRS officer who served in the income-tax department,” the piece says.
Shekhar Gupta of The Indian Express, in an op-ed piece, has questioned the fact that the Congress party has come out in Vadra’s defence, even though he claims to be a private citizen.
“There is the evidence of the 2004 and 2009 elections to show that the Congress party is not brainless. Yet, what is it about the party that the moment a member of the Gandhi family is attacked, it loses its political judgement, instinct, discretion, everything? It ceases to respond like a political party. Its seniormost leaders and cabinet ministers, many with several decades in public life, instead of trying to leverage the qualities of experience and maturity that rivals like Team Kejriwal (mere “upstarts”, as the Congress would describe them) may find hard to match, start behaving like panicky hitmen in some kind of political Gangs of Hastinapur,” Gupta says.
“The capital’s political scuttlebutt now has it that word has come from the very top for the stormtroopers to shut up. But the more important question is, why was that self-defeating counter-attack launched in the first place? If Vadra is a private individual, married to a member of the Gandhi family who, too, is apolitical and thereby a private person, why did the party jump to his defence? And even if they did, why with such colossal incompetence and stupidity?” he asks.
Meanwhile, the Corporation Bank has again denied giving an overdraft to Vadra, The Times of India reports.
“ Corporation Bank has insisted that it did not advance an overdraft to any of Robert Vadra’s companies, adding a twist to the controversy swirling around the remarkable rise in the riches of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law,” the report said.
“IAC member Manish Sisodia said Corporation Bank’s statement clearly indicated that Vadra had filed a false balance sheet with the registrar of companies. “It could also mean that Vadra introduced black money through this entry,” Sisodia said. Even before Corporation Bank came out with the denial, the fact that a company with no other asset was extended such an overdraft by a public sector bank had baffled many,” the report noted.
Another report in The Times of India has said that Arvind Kejriwal could target Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Nitin Gadkari on 16 October.
“The suspense over India Against Corruption’s next target ended on Friday. Reiterating that she has proof of her three meetings with BJP national president Nitin Gadkari, IAC activist Anjali Damania said she will be exposing his “lies” at a joint press conference with Arvind Kejriwal in New Delhi on October 16. While the news should come as a temporary breather for the Congress, it is bound to raise anxiety levels in the BJP,” the report said.
“If IAC’s charges against Gadkari sticks, it will further fuel the Congress-BJP war of words. It could also dent the Nagpur politician’s ambitions. He has given enough indications that he will contest elections for the first time in 2014. The BJP president has already been targeted in the Coalgate scam as some of his close associates have got undue benefits,” the report further said.
“ Krishnan Sreenivasan, the Kochi-based businessman who replaced Priyanka Vadra as director in a Robert Vadra company, was a surprise finalist in the list of probable Congress candidates for a Lok Sabha ticket from Kerala in the 2009 general elections,” The Times of India says in yet another report.
“Sreenivasan became a director of Blue Breeze Trading on July 10, 2008 when Priyanka resigned as its director. Both Priyanka and Robert were directors of the company since it was incorporated in 2007. According to sources, Sreenivasan is a former Indian Information Service officer who served in the central government. He was appointed additional private secretary to late Congress leader K Karunakaran when he was industries minister in 1995,” the report noted.
An opinion piece in Mint has described Arvind Kejriwal as “a necessary disruptive force” and “the unown political variable” in Indian politics, which is a “nice comforting bell curve.”
“By bringing up Robert Vadra’s rocket speed rise up the wealth ladder, Kejriwal, who calls himself a politician now, has, as a Congress MP admitted on television the other night, “hit below the belt,” “ the piece notes.
“Kejriwal is an outlier in Indian politics’ nice comforting bell curve—he is the unknown variable. He is not part of the wink wink-nudge nudge conspiracy of silence of Indian political life, and he has nothing to lose. Every political journalist in Delhi knew about Robert Vadra’s connection with big land deals all over Gurgaon and nearby areas. There was enough documentary proof floating around. No one wrote a word about it, except The Economic Times last year, which carried a report on what the DLF annual report revealed about unsecured loans to Vadra, and then mysteriously did not do any follow-up,” the piece notes.
Meanwhile, the Congress party has said that there is “nothing illegal, malafide or unethical” in the business dealings of Robert Vadra with realty major DLF BSE -1.11 % and accused BJP of unleashing its “B-team” India Against Corruption (IAC) to “regurgitate” the old allegations, the Press Trust of India (PTI) reported.
“The party dubbed IAC as “Insinuation and Allegation Corporation” and targetted Prashant Bhushan and his father Shanti Bhushan over their land deals in Himachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh,” the report further said.
Mumbai based stock analyst S P Tulsian has said in an interview to CNBC-TV18 that any litigation would force the court to direct the government and the regulatory authorities to probe affairs of the company (DLF).
“The overhang will definitely remain. So yes, there are lot of controversies and one big controversy which I will add here is also the merger of DAL Assets, which was again the company having created by the group for their personal benefit which when it did not succeed, they dumped it into DLF. This has ceased to surprise the shareholders and that why the value has eroded. At one point of time, the company enjoyed a market cap of maybe a Rs 100,000 crore or maybe more than that, and now it is ruling at a market cap of Rs 38,000 crore. It is surprising that even the independent directors have expressed ignorance about the Rs 65 crore interest-free loan having been given. So, yes the problem of corporate governance has again resurfaced. But I think that this time, the resurfacing of the old problems and the legal action are sure be a major problem for DLF in the time to come,” a transcript of the interview cited Tulsian as saying.
In a cover story, India Today magazine has detailed how Robert Vadra acquired what it calls his “unreal estate.”
“In 2008, Sky Light Hospitality bought a 3.5-acre plot in Manesar close to DLF’s recently launched residential apartment project, Primus, for Rs 15.38 crore. The funds for this purchase were raised largely from two sources: An overdraft from public sector Corporation Bank in 2007-08 worth Rs 7.94 crore and a Rs 4.45 crore loan from Vadra’s own firm, Artex. The huge overdraft from Corporation Bank to Sky Light Hospitality which had a paid up equity capital of only Rs 5 lakh, and no income stream, deserves closer examination. The bank has been quoted in the media saying that it is in the process of probing the terms of the overdraft. The bank needs to answer whether, in the absence of significant paid up equity capital, any collateral was offered by Vadra in exchange for the Rs 7.94 crore overdraft,” the report notes.
“In 2008-2009, within a year of purchasing the Manesar property, Vadra sold the land to DLF, India’s largest property developer, in exchange for an advance of Rs 58 crore, paid in instalments over the next four years. Vadra made a tidy profit of Rs 42.61 crore. The appreciation of the value of the land by 300 per cent in a single year is unusual,” the report further notes.
Former Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala has now said that there should be a judicial probe on Vadra’s land dealings in Haryana.
“Waving alleged revenue documents of purchases made by Robert Vadra, son-in-law of UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, at much less rates than the collector rate at Shakarpuri village in Mewat, INLD chief and former chief minister Om Prakash Chautala on Thursday demanded a judicial probe into all land purchases made by Vadra in Haryana,” The Financial Express newspaper said.
“While releasing the documents to the media, Chautala alleged that Real Earth Estate Pvt Ltd — a firm owned by Vadra — purchased 29 acres of land in Mewat at a price of Rs 71 lakh while the collector rate of the land was fixed at Rs 4.5 crore. He added that the market price of said land at the time of purchase in May 2009 was over Rs 14 crore,” the report said.
Firstpost.com, citing Income Tax documents, has said in a report that finance minister P Chidambaram may have “jumped the gun” in giving Robert Vadra a clean chit.
“A close reading of the Income Tax Act, balance-sheets of Sky Light Hospitality Pvt Ltd, a company owned by Vadra, and the statement issued by DLF suggest that Chidambaram could have jumped the gun in trying to give Vadra a clean chit. These documents suggest that Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality may not have paid tax amounting to Rs 14.1 crore,” the report says. The report goes on totry and ascertain the capital gains tax one of Vadra’s companies might have had to pay.
Psephologist turned ‘Team Kejriwal’ member Yogendra Yadav has said that “if Robert Vadra can be questioned, no one is beyond public scrutiny.”
“... Prashant Bhushan and Arvind Kejriwal have violated a code of silence observed in Delhi’s corridors of power. The shock is not in the revelation itself. Robert Vadra’s weakness for property has been a staple of Delhi’s gossip circles for quite some time. No self-respecting journalist is surprised at what has been disclosed. Nor is the evidence a particularly stunning piece of investigation. Almost all the documents used are drawn from public sources. The BJP president has acknowledged seeing these documents some time ago. Everyone who mattered knew about it, yet it was understood that this is not for public consumption. During Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s regime, everyone knew about Ranjan Bhattacharya’s role in the PMO or the late Pramod Mahajan’s multi-faceted adventures. Yet neither the media nor the then opposition spoke about it in public. A rank outsider has shattered this carefully cultivated silence,” Yadav writes in an Op-Ed piece in The Indian Express.
“Stepping out from darkness into sunlight can be hard. So it has been for our media. It is not just the Congressmen who are more embarrassed than their first family, a section of the media too is visibly uneasy. This unease results in blanking out this news or shooting the messengers or an over-eagerness to protect the accused. Used to treating the Dynasty as an exception, our public debates start demanding exceptional standards for this trial,” he goes on to say.
Mail Today newspaper has said that an investigation by its reporters has found that Kejriwal’s claim that Vadra owns large tracts of land in Bikaner in Rajasthan, may be true.
“Mail Today is in possession of copies of two cheques that Vadra issued on April 9, 2009, to purchase five pieces of land through two deals in Bikaner’s Kolayat tehsil. Both the deals were made in his capacity as diretor of Real Earth Estate P rivate Limited, one of Vadra’s companies. While in one transaction Vadra bought 95.29 acres for Rs 91.50 lakh, in the other he purchased 4.61 acres for Rs 8.50 lakh. For both the land deals, he authorised one Mahesh Nagar of Faridabad for registration of the land at Chauhanan in Bikaner,” the report says.
“While there seems to be any illegality in the deals, what is significant is that both the purchases took place between 2007 and 2010 when, according to Kejriwal, Vadra went on a property buying spree through five of his companies which had a total share capital of only Rs 50 lakh. In one transaction, Vadra, through Nagar, bought 95.29 acres of land from one Vineet Asopa of M/s Avijit Agro P rivate Limited in Bikaner. According to the registered land sale deed, a copy of which is with the Mail Today, Avijit Agro had purchased four plots totalling 129.08 acres from four different farmers,” it goes on to say.
Meanwhile, the Congress party has said that Vadra’s “banana republic” comment should have been taken lightly.
“Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhary has said that the remark was meant to be taken lightly. Talking to CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose on Face The Nation, Chowdhary also said that Arvind Kejriwal has not yet substantiated his allegations against Vadra,” CNN-IBN said in a report.
“Vadra’s comment came under immense criticism, especially from India Against Corruption. IAC member Arvind Kejriwal’s associate Kumar Vishwas demanded that Vadra apologises for insulting India by calling it a banana republic,” the report said.
“Congress and activists belonging to India Against Corruption have locked horns over IAC member and Supreme Court advocate Prashant Bhushan’s plot in Himachal Pradesh, with Congress citing the property as evidence of latter’s hypocrisy,” a report in The Times of India said.
“Minister of state for parliamentary affairs Rajiv Shukla said that while outsiders are not allowed to buy land in Himachal, Bhushan got an exemption by claiming that Kumud Bhushan Educational Society planned to build a school,” the report goes on to say.
“The fresh confrontation between Congress and IAC activists is unfolding against the backdrop of the possibility over the controversy over Vadra’s assets spreading to cover the bungalow that his spouse Priyanka Gandhi has built in Himachal Pradesh. The society, belonging to Prashant Bhushan, was permitted to buy 4.68 hectares of land for the construction of an educational institute on February 2, 2010. During the last winter session of the assembly in Dharamshala, revenue minister Gulab Singh Thakur, in response to a question, had informed the House that the land use change was allowed, from January 1, 2008 to November 30, 2011, under Section 118 of the Land Reforms and Tenancy Act to allow the society to buy the tea garden land,” the report notes.
In an opinion piece, T. K. Arun of The Economic Times has sought to argue that Arvind Kejriwal’s tactics resemble that of Maoists.
“Maoists make news when they bump off their class enemies, mostly police personnel from families in the same social strata whom the Maoists claim to champion. Few would approve of the Maoist glorification of such bloodshed. At the same time, the Maoists have served to focus attention on the black holes of oppression and deprivation that dot the milky way of India’s socio-economic development, whose many scintillating points of light tend to obscure, from public attention, the sheer misery that fills those holes,” he says.
“Team Anna initially spewed contempt and disdain for the democratic process and acted as if a mob could frame laws. Its identified solution for the problem of corruption, a Lokpal, was naive and missed the root cause of corruption, the almost exclusive funding of Indian democracy by the proceeds of corruption. Reform of political funding and an expanded, efficient judicial system that disposes of cases beyond final appeal within, say, 18 months, are what the battle against corruption needs. Kejirwal’s populist embrace of ‘high’ power bills and forcible restoration of power connections cut off for not paying the bill are both suspect and damaging,” the piece goes on to say.
Business Standard newspaper has said that the prices of flats in DLF’s Aralia and Mangolia projects actually soared before Vadra acquired flats in them.
“The value of a flat in DLF’s The Aralias project in Gurgaon rose about four times in less than two years. Compared to an average price of Rs 2,548 per sq ft in November 2006, prices stood at Rs 12,000 per sq ft in September 2008, a 370 per cent jump in 22 months. Even during the boom years of 2007 and 2008, the jump was extraordinary, say analysts,” the report said,
“The controversial The Magnolias project, too, showed remarkable escalation in prices just before Vadra’s investment. In November 2006, the average sale price of The Magnolias property stood at Rs 5,898 per sq ft. By March 2008, the price rose 70 per cent,” it added.
In its sharpest attack on Vadra so far, the BJP has questioned whether Vadra’s deals with DLF were business transactions or favors.
“As the political storm over the Robert Vadra-DLF nexus raged, the reaction of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was largely muted with senior party leaders remaining silent on the issue. But that changed with senior party leader Arun Jaitley launched a scathing attack on Congress ministers for defending the “indefensible” - referring to the government’s support to Mr Vadra, who is the son-in-law of Congress President Sonia Gandhi,” a report published by NDTV said.
“Mr Jaitley, on Thursday, severely criticized the manner in which senior ministers of the Congress-led UPA government jumped to the defence of a “member of the Congress Party’s First Family”. “It indicates that the current controversy is being utilized to display loyalty rather than to enforce probity,” Mr Jaitley wrote on his website,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Business Standard has questioned Corporation Bank’s denial of an overdraft extended to Vadra’s company.
“The overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore by the Friend’s Colony Branch of Corporation Bank, however, is clearly present on page 5 of the auditor’s report for Sky Light Hospitality for 2007-2008, under the head ‘Schedules Forming Part of Account for the Year Ended 31st March 2008’. This document is publicly available on the ministry of corporate affairs (MCA) website. The document is signed by both Robert Vadra and his mother, Maureen Vadra, both directors in Sky Light Hospitality, as well as chartered accountant, S Ramachandra Bhat, of SRC Bhat and Associates on September 5, 2008. With Corporation Bank, whose name and branch is plainly stated in the balance sheet, now denying it extended any such facility to Vadra, the veracity of the information with the MCA itself is unclear. The implications are far-reaching. If the transaction was never made, as asserted by Corporation Bank, then it is not beyond reasonable doubt the mistake lies with the company in question, Sky Light Hospitality, or its auditor, SRC Bhat and Associates, or both,” the newspaper report said.
In what could become a significant development in the Arvind Kejriwal-Robert Vadra imbroglio, the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad high court has asked the Prime Minister’s Office to submit a response to a public interest litigation (PIL), seeking a probe into Kejriwal’s allegations.
The Economic Times and The Times Of India newspapers reported this in two separate reports.
“The petition filed by Dr Nutan Thakur had sought the court’s direction to the Prime Minister’s Office to initiate a probe in the allegations leveled against Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi. The allegations were leveled by Arvind Kejriwal and senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan claiming that Vadra had acquired large assets in nexus with realty major DLF. Both Vadra and DLF had deneid any wrong doing,” The Economic Times report noted.
“Justices Uma Nath Singh and Virendra Kumar Dixit have fixed 21 November as the next date of hearing. It asked the Centre to to file its preliminary objection regarding maintainability of the writ petition filed by Dr Nutan Thakur,” the report went on to say.
“The court also heard additional solicitor general Ashok Nigam, representing the central government. He strongly opposed the petition saying it was based on hearsay and was not maintainable. The court then asked Nigam to plead objections on affidavit, for which he sought three weeks time to file objections,” The Times of India report said.
“In her petition, Thakur has named the government of India including home secretary, finance secretary and Central Bureau of Investigation as the respondents in the case,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the Bharatiya Janata Party has “demanded an ‘impartial’ court-monitored inquiry into the allegations against Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra over his property dealings with realty major DLF,” a Press Trust of India report said.
Corporation Bank has denied giving overdraft to Robert Vadra’s company, as reported in a section of the media, The Hindu Business Line newspaper said in a report.
“As per the information given to me by the branch, there is no overdraft at all,” the report cited Ajai Kumar, the bank’s chairman and managing director, as saying.
In an opinion piece, Firstpost.com has said that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and capital market regulator Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) must investigate Vadra, since government agencies will not.
“P. Chidambaram thinks there is nothing to be done in the DLF-Robert Vadra deals. Veerappa Moily says he has already verified that Vadra’s companies did nothing wrong. Salman Khurshid concurs. And so does Jayanthi Natarajan, who as environment minister, should have had nothing to say on a corporate sweetheart deal. When the finance minister, the corporate affairs minister and the law minister have such strong views on l’affaire Vadra, one can assume that the officers under their command won’t act. This means the tax authorities won’t do much to examine DLF’s or Vadra’s companies for compliance with tax laws, the registrar of companies (under Moily) will not do anything to check whether Vadra gave out the right numbers, and the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) won’t act since there is no public sector company or public servant involved—at least not visibly so—in this case,” the piece said.
In another piece in Firstpost.com, B.V. Rao, editor of Governance Now, has said that Vadra “deserves a medal for wealth creation patent”.
“The question on top of everybody’s mind is from where does Vadra source the timber for his magic wand that can turn Rs50 lakh into Rs300 crore in four years. All of us would love to have that magic wand,” Rao says.
“The question on everybody’s mind, at least on the mind of the millions of DLF shareholders, is what crime they have committed that DLF does not extend each one of them the same largesse it showered on Vadra. The crime is not to share the formula for creating assets just out of mutual goodwill and thin air,” he goes on to say.
In yet another piece, Firstpost.com tracks the Gandhi family’s links with DLF.
“The owners of DLF have strong ties with the Gandhi family that go as far back as 30 years, when Robert Vadra was nowhere in picture. In fact, DLF owner K.P. Singh gives Rajiv Gandhi all the credit for reviving DLF and enabling him to create Gurgaon as an international city. All this finds ample acknowledgement in his autobiography Whatever the Odds: The Incredible Story Behind DLF. First published in 2011, K.P. Singh describes how Rajiv Gandhi saved him from inevitable arrest and from his staunch enemy Bansi Lal. Rajiv Gandhi helped change archaic laws and provided the first-ever license to a private realty company (DLF). And the partnership didn’t stop,” the piece notes.
In what spells more bad news for DLF, Goldman Sachs downgraded the company to ‘neutral’ from ‘buy’, saying slower approvals could result in fewer project launches, while cutting its pre-sale estimates for India’s largest property developer, Reuters reported.
Goldman also removed DLF from its Asia-Pacific buy list and cut its 12-month target price to Rs 224 from Rs 257, the report said.
Meanwhile, law minister Salman Khurshid has warned of legal action against Kejriwal for alleging that he had siphoned off NGO funds, NDTV news channel reported.
“Law Minister Salman Khurshid has said he will take legal action against activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal and Hindi TV channel Aaj Tak for alleging that an NGO headed by him and run by his wife siphoned off lakhs of money meant for physically challenged people in his home state of Uttar Pradesh,”NDTV said.
“Mr Kejriwal, who launched a new anti-graft political party last week, cited a sting aired on Aaj Tak to demand that Mr Khurshid should resign and that his wife be arrested. To push for action against the minister, he also plans to lead a group of demonstrators to “gherao” or march upto Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s house tomorrow,” the report added.
A report in The Times of India has said that Gujarat chief minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leader Narendra Modi has thus far “remained silent” on the controversy surrounding Robert Vadra’s deals with real estate major DLF, as he had himself ‘gifted’ large tracts of land to the company.
“Interestingly, Modi himself is alleged to have allotted one lakh square metres of prime land in Gandhinagar in 2007 to the realty major at concessional rate.,” the report notes.
“According to a memorandum signed by all Gujarat Congress MPs and MLAs, which was presented to then president Pratibha Patil on 3 June 2011, this allotment was done without an auction and caused a revenue loss of Rs 253 crore to the Gujarat exchequer going by current market rates. The exchequer lost Rs 142.28 crore as a result. The memorandum further says DLF got this land for developing a special economic zone but later approached the state government to denotify the SEZ and convert it into an IT park. The request was granted by the Modi government in 2009,” the report says.
An interesting opinion piece published by Firstpost.com says that ‘Vadragate’ is “an indictment of the Indian media.”
“From the torrent of stories now unleashed by the media after Arvind Kejriwal opened the floodgates to the DLF-Robert Vadra deals, one cannot but suspect that hidden somewhere in the folds of Vadragate is the media’s collective conspiracy of silence,” the piece notes. “If the media needs an Aamir Khan to take up issues like sex-specific abortions and domestic abuse, and if it needs a Kejriwal to rake up the issue of corruption in high places (for his own political purposes), it cannot but be complicit in these crimes. Not directly, maybe, but certainly by failing to blow the lid on scams on its own.”
After Business Standard, a report in The Hindu newspaper too has raised questions about unsecured loans that were extended by Corporation Bank to one of Vadra’s companies.
“Union finance minister P. Chidambaram may have described the controversial business dealings of Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law as transactions involving “private individuals” but the disclosure that the public sector Corporation Bank had extended an overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore in 2007-2008 to Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality when his company had total resources of only one lakh rupees has left officials at the Mangalore-based lender hard pressed to explain whether the transaction conformed to normal lending guidelines,” the report said.
“A general manager of another public sector bank said he could not give a “yes” or “no” reply to whether this specific overdraft could be justified. However, he noted that given the capital of the company, the overdraft amount “definitely” appeared disproportionate,” the report added.
A report published by the website of the India Today magazine has said that Vadra’s land deals in Kerala could now come under the scanner.
“A prominent Malayalam newspaper has revealed another Kerala connection for the Vadras.
Real estate sharks from across the country are offering fancy prices and buying up lush green paddy lands and verdant islands around the three proposed bridges that will connect Kerala’s commercial capital of Kochi with Paravoor in Ernakulam district,” the report said.
“The bridges, coming over the sprawling backwaters, will reduce the present 24-km distance substantially, turning the scenic region into a dream location for high-end tourist resorts, hotels and farmhouses. But what has made the deals intriguing is the speculation of Robert Vadra ‘s presence in most of the dealings. According to Kerala Kaumudi, a prominent Malayalam newspaper that first broke the story, the buzz in and around Kochi is that most of the land being bought in the area, under different names that mainly belong to north India, are on behalf of Vadra,” the report further said.
“The paper has also revealed another Kerala connection for the Vadras. Kochi resident Sreenivasan Krishnan has replaced Priyanka Gandhi as the director of Blue Breeze Trading, a chartered-flight service provider which is under scrutiny for alleged corporate favours, as claimed by Arvind Kejriwal,” the report said.
“Robert Vadra, we must reluctantly admit, is right. He was trying to be funny with mango, or aam, aadmi. In English, it may sound a bit outlandish, though fruitcake is close. But it is spot on in Tamil slang, for ‘maanga’ (for mango) is an idiot or a fool by another name called,” an opinion piece in The Hindu Business Line said.
“Vadra is right, we are fools. Who else will elect the politicians of various hues who promptly bend all rules and laws their way, if, that is, they were not already made to their order? Who else will allow politicians to give away to their friends and relatives the invaluable natural resources? Who else will hesitate to shut the doors on politicians though so many ‘gates’ are ‘opening’ up numbers that makes one’s head swim?” the piece asks.
An editorial in The Indian Express has however taken a diametrically opposite view and has said that although Kejriwal promised new politics, “for now, it is content to stoke cynicism about old political ways.”
“What have Arvind Kejriwal and his party-to-be achieved so far, after their formal foray into politics? They picked a high-value target in Robert Vadra, and by raising questions about his remarkable luck with real estate, they would appear to have framed an entire sorry way of doing business by coasting on connections. They have not yet proved any glaring illegality in the interactions between Vadra, the real estate behemoth DLF, and the Congress government in Haryana. And yet, the smear will probably stick because of the public disgust with powerful, chummy networks that are perceived to run politics and business. Very few are likely to give the benefit of the doubt to Vadra, DLF, or the Haryana government. In the process, Kejriwal has shown his political chops by taking on what many see to be a careful silence on India’s most powerful political family. And by sending its senior ministers to defend Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law, the Congress may only have lent credence to suspicions that the might of the UPA edifice backs Vadra,”it says.
“Team Kejriwal has masterfully coopted the media, with teasers about the next episode, and rhetoric made for TV splashes. Of course, as they insist, the burden of proof is not on them — they are not journalists or investigators or a court of law, and they are allowed to merely point to areas of reasonable doubt,” it goes on to say.
In an analytical piece, Mint has said that the allegations being leveled at could hurt the company’s plans to sell premium property in Gurgaon and ramp up sales in the National Capital Region market.
“Equity markets have already reacted adversely. Since the news broke out last week, DLF’s shares have plummeted by around 11% to Rs.213. What’s worse is that the news has come at a time when the real estate sector was hoping to see better times, with the anticipated interest rate cuts and foreign direct investment in retailing being seen as triggers for real estate demand,” the piece said.
“Unfortunately, the controversy comes at a time when a significant amount of Rs.2,700 crore is being realized from the sale of NTC Mill land—the first large step towards reducing DLF’s huge debt of Rs.22,680 crore. In the earlier quarters, sale proceeds from non-core assets came in trickles, which did not alleviate the burden as mounting interest costs ate into operating cash flows. In fact, the allegations pertain to regions where DLF’s prime land parcels exist and account for a significant chunk of its net asset value. Not only could it hurt core operations, the allegations raise concerns on land dealings, too, which, in turn, could hinder quick monetization of assets in these belts,” it notes.
In an important change of stance, the government has decided that its ministers will no longer defend Vadra in the current controversy.
“Ministers will no longer speak up on behalf of Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi ,who has become the epicentre of an escalating political controversy,” NDTV news channel said in a report.
“The group of ministers concluded that the controversy is about two private entities, and that since no criminality has been established so far, the government does not need to get involved with any defense. However, Congress spokespersons will continue to comment on the issue because Mr Kejriwal has cast aspersions on the party’s role, asking for example if black money from the Congress may have been channelled into Mr Vadra’s real estate businesses,” the report further said.
The Economic Times, in an opinion piece, had said that the Congress party should leave it to Robert Vadra and DLF to defend themselves.
“‘Mango people in a Banana Republic’” was Robert Vadra’s sign-off before he shut down his Facebook account, even as the Congress leadership is wondering how to shut down the latest controversy after Team Kejriwal went to town about the unorthodox real estate flair of the Gandhi family’s businessman son-in-law. While the accuracy of the charges against him and the subsequent rebuttal is under perusal, going by the non-serious tone and tenor of Vadra’s remarks, one thing seems probable: even after three eventful days that rocked the Congress establishment, either Vadra has not been asked to mind his words or he is out of control. Vadra’s language doesn’t help, given the high political overtone of events. He comes across as a man with a penchant for the politically incorrect brag,” the piece says.
“The Gandhi family seems to be very late, politically and socially, to distance itself from his actions. Unless they now decide to dump the egg, if it indeed is rotten, to contain at least the long-term stink,” it goes on to say.
Meanwhile, Business Standard reports that Corporation Bank has begun a probe into overdrafts made to Vadra’s firms.
“Almost five years after it offered a generous overdraft facility to Robert Vadra’s Sky Light Hospitality, Corporation Bank has initiated an internal probe to examine if the transaction violated any regulatory norms. The bank’s senior management has asked its Delhi regional office (the overdraft was given by Corporation Bank’s Friend Colony branch in New Delhi ) to send details on the transaction that dates back to 2007-08,” the newspaper report said. “The branch had given an overdraft of Rs 7.94 crore to Sky Light, which at that time had a paid-up capital of Rs 1 lakh only. Vadra, son-in-law of the ruling United Progressive Alliance’s (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi, is already at the centre of a controversy over his property dealings with DLF.”
In another twist to the controversy, Vadra may have landed into another land soup, this time in Mewat in Haryana, Firstpost.com reports.
“ Vadra’s firm Real Earth Estates Ltd bought 27 acre land in Haryana’s Mewat district allegedly below the government approved circle rates,” the report said citing a CNN-IBN report.
“The CNN-IBN report citing documents in possession with them said that Vadra bought land around Mewat at an average price of Rs 2.6 lakh an acre during 2009. What is noteworthy that during that time, the collector’s circle rate for property in the villages Shakarpuri and Ferozepur Jhirka in Mewat was Rs 16 lakh per acre,” the report further said.
The Congress party has said that the opposition is behind the allegations being leveled against Vadra. “At the AICC briefing, Congress spokesperson Renuka Chowdhury dismissed as “canard” that the charges against Vadra had led to a situation reminiscent of one after allegations of Bofors kickbacks against Rajiv Gandhi some 25 years ago,” the Press Trust of India (PTI) said in a report.
Journalist Sagarika Ghose termed the Vadra-Kejriwal duel as a “war about class.”
“The clash between Vadra and Kejriwal is not just about a crusade against corruption, its part of the ongoing simmering war that exists today between Macaulayputras and dhartiputras,” Ghose says in a piece carried by Firstpost.com.
On Wednesday, DLF refuted all charges made by Arvind Kejriwal in a response submitted before the Bombay Stock Exchange, Mint reported.
“ With reference to the 30 acres of SEZ (special economic zone) development by DLF on land purchased from East India Hotels, the order of the high court of Punjab and Haryana has been stayed by the Supreme Court of India vide its orders dated 20 June 2011 and 26 September 2011. The matter is sub-judice and is awaiting hearing,” the company said. “In DLF SEZ Holdings Pvt. Ltd, 50% of shareholding was acquired by North India IT Parks Pvt. Ltd in October 2008 at the face value of Rs.2.5 lakh. The said 50% shareholding was subsequently bought back from North India IT Parks in September 2009 fully at face value of Rs.2.5 lakh, as the proposal for developing SEZs could not take off due to deep recession in the market in 2009. No benefit or gain was made by Vadra or DLF, in this regard. We wish to clarify that this proposal had nothing to do with SEZ being developed or developed by DLF (including the one referred above). Vadra, neither had nor has any interest in the various SEZs of DLF in any manner.”
In an interesting take on the controversy, Mint said in a piece that it has made Vadra one of the most talked about people on the Internet, at times even surpassing US President Barack Obama.
“At 10.20 last night, some five hours after India Against Corruption leader Arvind Kejriwal levelled a series of fresh charges against Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, the term Vadra in the Google news search box threw up 804 news citings. At that precise moment a similar search for Obama, the one answering to the American President, pointed to 420 news articles. For that brief moment, thanks to Kejriwal’s exposes, our Robert Vadra was more written about than the world’s most powerful man,” the piece, that was published on Wednesday morning, said.
“Sadly that may be no more than a pyrrhic victory. For in that moment of popularity the Teflon coating of the Gandhi dynasty (not the original one, but the one that changed to this name) was peeled away forever. In the past, for all the charges that were ever hurled at India’s premier political dynasty, none had really stuck. Time and tide swept most major and minor stigmas, including Bofors, out of the public space. And the doddering old party continued on its merry ways, smug in this knowledge. But while the old political order wasn’t looking, the Internet changed the rules of the game,” it further noted.
“This was a marked contrast to his rather low-key public life in the eight years preceding. For this, we turn to another tool of the technological era—Google Trends (based on Google Search, this is a google service that shows how often a particular search-term is entered relative to the total search-volume across various regions of the world, and in various languages). In the last 7-8 years there has been so little written about Vadra that you would be forgiven for not knowing who it was that he was married to. Interest in Robert Vadra in the 7 years between 2004 and 2011 was at best lukewarm, never going into double digits (on a scale of 1-100). It scaled a high of 27 in 2011 when the irrepressible Subramanian Swamy claimed he would prove corruption charges against the unfortunate young man. It sparked again a bit later when there was a row over the transfer of an officer who stopped a Robert Vadra rally. From such an undistinguished past, suddenly that index rises to 100 (the maximum possible score) as of yesterday. Mr. Vadra is now public property and it is open season for news writers, bloggers, twitterati,” it added.
The Supreme Court had stayed the land acquisition quoted by India Against Corruption member Arvind Kejriwal to attack Robert Vadra, CNN-IBN news channel reported.
The question is if this makes Kejriwal’s accusations less factual, the report asks.
“It is not about what is applicable. The fact is that the High Court judges thought that the case is to say that the Haryana Government has shown favouritism and the opinion of those judges is valid and it is still a public domain document which we can accept. It is a matter that as you have said is still subjudice but the opinion of the judge of Punjab and Haryana shows a clear collusion has been seen,” the report cites IAC member Preeti Menon as saying.
But lawyers say that a judgement is not final when it is stayed, it notes.
“SC has granted a stay, which means that the judgement cannot be acted upon or given effect to, and it has not attained finality, it has to pass the test of the SC. At this point it would be wrong to rely on it because that is the purpose of a stay, it is out in abeyance, it is out on hold,” the report cites lawyer Gopal Jain as saying.
Meanwhile, in a front page report, Business Standard newspaper has detailed how a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) promoted by DLF “had a Vadra connection.”
“Kejriwal gave out papers to show Vadra’s company, North India IT Parks Pvt Ltd, became a 50 per cent shareholder in DLF SEZ Holdings Pvt Ltd in October 2008. Of a total of 50,000 shares in DLF SEZ Holdings Pvt Ltd, Vadra’s company bought 25,000 for Rs 2.5 lakh. After a year, in 2009, Vadra sold back the shares to DLF. DLF SEZ Holdings Pvt Ltd was set up in 2007,” the report says.
“DLF did not deny that Vadra’s company was a 50 per cent shareholder in DLF SEZ Holdings. It added that these shares were bought back by DLF at the face value of Rs 2.5 lakh as the proposal to develop SEZs could not take off due to deep recession in the market in 2009. “No gain or benefit was made by Mr Vadra or DLF, in this regard,” DLF said, adding that “Mr Vadra neither had nor has any interest in the various SEZs of DLF in any manner”. Giving a background, India Against Corruption’s Kejriwal alleged that while 30 acres of land in Gurgaon was supposed to be used for constructing a hospital, the Haryana government issued notifications in 2006 and 2007 to allow DLF to use it for an SEZ. He also cited judgments by the Punjab and Haryana High Court on the SEZ issue to establish the alleged nexus between DLF and the Haryana government. The Haryana government has denied the allegation that land meant for setting up a hospital was released in favour of DLF,” the report further noted.
Firstpost.com has tried to analyse Arvind Kejriwal politics in the light of the latest allegations he has made against Robert Vadra.
“Several questions arise. Does Kejriwal have a fix on the country’s real problems? Is he an anti-corruption messiah whose remedies will work? What are his solutions, and how will they impact us? Is he really different from the political parties we currently have? What accounts for his ability to grab TV viewers’ attention? Is he just a rabble-rouser or a leader who can really lead?,” it asks in one piece.
“What we have seen so far are the following: he has an ability to grab eyeballs by focusing on allegations against the high and mighty (example: the dossier on Robert Vadra); he also has the ability to spot populist opportunities (as in the Delhi electricity tariff hikes); but so far he has exhibited a serious shortage of ideas on deeper issues (of which, more later). His efforts to take the law into his own hands—to force Delhi to cut power tariffs—have been criticized as anarchist. But with popular mood on his side, this has not mattered,” the piece further says.
“Kejriwal is successfully playing to the prime-time gallery by releasing his so-called dossiers on corruption in instalments. There is thus a build-up of expectations, and follow up action in the media. Needless to say, at some point the media will tire of this news-by-instalments approach, but that is some distance away. Most important, the Vadra case was a good first effort since it took the battle right to the heart of the political system—the Sonia Gandhi household. Faced with a Kejriwal hijack, normally reticent opposition parties had to join the melee. And Kejriwal scored big. So, the first conclusion is that Arvind Kejriwal has arrived on the political scene at the right time to harvest public anger. His tactical moves have served him well, and the media took the bait—just as it did last year with Team Anna. But, clearly, this cannot last. When he gets closer to an election—say around the time of the Delhi elections—he is going to be asked tougher questions, and his answers cannot just be slogans,” it further says.
In another piece, Firstpost.com asks if Kejriwal’s idea of India is just “Delhi and Congress?”
“It’s abundantly public that Kejriwal has political ambitions and he wants to pursue his anti-corruption agenda through politics. Which means he will have to form a party, fight elections, get election commission recognition as a national party based on his vote-share, and ultimately assume power. In simple terms, fight and win elections or perish. He is certainly justified in taking to politics and doing everything to win when his NGO attempts and the Jantar Mantar antics failed to work at scale. Never mind his (earlier) avowed aversion to politics; people change and move on. And as pop-philosophers say, one should never be captive to one’s past. He is also justified in making corruption as the central piece of his political game, for the outrage it generates in millions of the Indian middle class. He is also justified in accusing politics as the fountainhead of corruption and projecting himself as the man out to fix it. He is certainly entitled to his formula to win elections. But that is exactly where he needs to be questioned. Does corruption in India mean only Congress? Does corruption mean only what happens in Delhi? Are we too naive to fall for a guy who seems to be in a hurry to fix Indian politics? Some political observers say the minimum incubation period required for such a political enterprise is 10 years. Kejriwal obvious will not want to wait that long,” the second piece says.
“Except for some loose shots aimed at the BJP here and there, he has been training his guns exclusively on the Congress, although in every single big scam at the Centre, whether it is the 2G or coalgate, the BJP is not above suspicion. Is this anti-Congressism his politics? Is his Vadra “expose” a cheap act of political opportunism as the Congress alleges?,” the second piece goes on to ask.
An opinion piece in Rediff.com has questioned whether the principal opposition Bharatiya Janata Party is acting as the Congress party’s “B-team” on the issue of Robert Vadra’s alleged fraudulent business links.
“The irony is inescapable: even as the top-rung government ministers and party apparatchiks were coming out in droves to defend the alleged malfeasance of the first son-in-law, the man under the cloud of suspicion himself exposed his defenders and the rotten state of national affairs they are lording over by contemptuously calling India a ‘banana republic’.
If not for financial honesty and propriety, then at least for political honesty, Robert Vadra needs to be complimented. After all, it is only in a banana republic that someone like Vadra can make so much money in so little time, not because he is some kind of financial genius but because he has the right connections because of which he has the right kind of friends. Indeed India has been reduced to a banana republic by the people running this government who are selling valuable national resources for peanuts to oblige cronies masquerading as capitalists and industrialists and buy political allies. Thus it is that 2G, Commonwealth Games, coal-gate, and a host of other scandals are all par for the course,” the piece says.
“The other great revelation of this phoenix-like rise of Indian ‘princelings’ is the unwritten but more or less scrupulously observed honour code between the two main political parties wherein all crimes of omission and commission of the ‘princelings’ become taboo subjects. In this modern Indian version of ‘honour among thieves’, if you happen to be the progeny or married to a progeny of any top political party leader, then you have complete immunity from law. Come to think of it, even if you happen to be related to the second or third rung of politicians, chances are you can get away with murder (remember the Jessica Lal case?) if you can keep things under the wraps long enough,” it goes on to say.
“What was most hilarious was that while the Congress was trying to deflect the focus from Vadra’s ‘business wizardry’ by accusing the BJP of firing a salvo against the Gandhi family using the shoulder of India Against Corruption, the BJP, instead of demanding an investigation into the dubious dealings of Vadra, was busy trying to convince the Congress that it had nothing to do with the entire episode. Amazingly, none of the BJP stalwarts who are normally visible on the television screens were anywhere to be found. It was almost as though they were on trial, not Vadra. With an opposition party so compromised and so complicit in the rampant loot and corruption that we have witnessed in recent years, isn’t Vadra quite on the mark when he calls India a ‘banana republic’? Of course, allowing the princelings the freedom to loot with impunity doesn’t apply across the board and the party that generally violates this principle the most is the Congress. In fact, while the Congress expects that its princelings will not be touched, but fingering princelings from other parties is perfectly legitimate and acceptable,” it further notes.
Earlier on Tuesday activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal disclosed fresh evidence to back his accusations against Robert Vadra , son-in-law of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi , and accused the Haryana government of favouring property developer DLF Ltd, putting corruption-related issues back at the centre of the political debate, Mint newspaper said in a report.
“Kejriwal, who last week alleged that Vadra had purchased properties worth more than Rs.300 crore using “unsecured interest free loans from DLF”, produced more documents on Tuesday saying that the Haryana government had favoured DLF and gave it 350 acres of land in the state, cancelled a land acquisition in Manesar to favour the company and increased the floor area rate for it in the government’s Gurgaon Manesar Urban Complex Plan,” the report added.
North India IT Parks Pvt. Ltd, a company belonging to Vadra’s group, had acquired almost 50% of DLF SEZ Holdings Pvt. Ltd, according to Kejriwal. It was sold back to the DLF group after a year.
In an opinion piece on the controversy, Mint said that “thanks to the maverick actions and audacious allegations of activist-turned-politician Arvind Kejriwal have once again turned headlines. Once again politicians are in the me-too act and turning the spotlight on corruption; claims and counter-claims are being flung around. In politics, unlike in judicial cases, the verdict is delivered inevitably by the first mover. Elections have often been fought and won on allegations that either were not proved or were blatantly false”.
Meanwhile, the Haryana government on Tuesday refuted all allegations made by Kejriwal in the Robert Vadra-DLF controversy, saying no favour had been granted to the realty major, CNN-IBN reported.
Addressing a press conference in Chandigarh, director general of Haryana town and country planning department T.C. Gupta said the land had been released to East India Hotels Ltd more than 16 years back and the permission was granted to it to sell land to DLF Ltd “after following due process of law”. “No land belonging to the government or Haryana Urban Development Authority was allotted or transferred to either DLF Ltd or East India Hotels Ltd,” he said. Gupta said East India Hotels Ltd. had applied for construction of Hospital/Nursing Home/Oberoi Hotel Management Institute and a Health farm plus accommodation for executives in respect of land measuring 18 acres 2 Marla and this change of land use permission was granted on 17 July 1984. “This project however, was not completed by the land owner,” Gupta said, according to the channel.
According to another report by CNN-IBN, corporate affairs minister M. Veerappa Moily on Tuesday said that the government did not find any violations in the business deals between Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and real-estate major DLF.
In an opinion piece, The Indian Express newspaper called Arvind Kejriwal, “a man in a hurry”.
“His attack on Robert Vadra, Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law has virtually pointed the finger of corruption at the Nehru-Gandhi family. As Kejriwal persisted with his onslaught against Vadra—charging that his meteoric rise as a realty businessman and raking a Rs.500 crore bonanza from a Rs.50 lakh investment was through unfair dealings—the Congress has been forced to react, respond and counter and almost play into his hands. Kejriwal’s political gambit has enabled him to hog the media limelight, most essential for a budding politician,” the newspaper said.
“But will Kejriwal, the man in a hurry be able to make the transition successfully or will he fade into oblivion in a few years time? Fighting corruption is one thing, while contesting elections is another. The former CEC T.N. Sheshan realized it was a tall task, even though he was the darling of dining room discussions. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, for that matter, found electoral politics is not his cup of tea despite the immensely “clean image” that he carried with him. As a creation of 24x7 TV media, Kejriwal may be able to carry his political campaign for some time through “sensational revelations”. But at the end of the day, he will have to show what he can do for the people, and more importantly, for those in his constituency when he chooses one. It will be his overall political ideology that will eventually show whether he will be able to join the same political class that he is aggressively targetting now,” the piece opined further.
In another report, The Indian Express said the “Congress today launched a counter offensive against Arvind Kejriwal daring him to issue a white paper on the finances for his campaign and rejected as ‘baseless’ the fresh charges levelled by the activist against Robert Vadra saying there was ‘nothing new and no proofs’. Party spokesperson Rashid Alvi asked Kejriwal to file a criminal complaint in the matter and approach the court so that law can take its own course.”
In an interesting report, the Business Standard newspaper has chalked out, in significant detail, the history of Vadra’s business transactions.
“Robert Vadra, who is at the centre of a controversy over his property dealings with realty giant DLF and others, began investing in real estate five years ago, in 2007-08. He was already a wealthy man by then, not a struggling businessman who could scrape only a few lakh rupees together as capital for his new real estate ventures. His Artex export firm had the wherewithal to lend Rs.4.45 crore to one of his new firms (Sky Light Hospitality) in 2008-09. The previous year, the company’s directors (there were only two, Mr Vadra and his mother Maureen) had lent Rs.1 crore to another of his real estate firms (Sky Light Realty),” the report says.
“Apart from being wealthy, he must also have had excellent relations with Corporation Bank, whose Friends Colony branch (located close to Mr Vadra’s companies’ offices in the capital) gave an overdraft of Rs.7.94 crore to Sky Light Hospitality. The newly incorporated company at the time had total resources of Rs.1 lakh, being its paid-up share capital.
Sky Light Hospitality invested the entire loan amount plus share capital in a piece of land at Manesar. That was the first instalment, with a second instalment of Rs.7.43 crore paid the following year (2008-09). It would be unusual for any public sector bank to fund virtually the entire value of a big-ticket land purchase; perhaps the bank already had a business relationship with Mr Vadra, or they knew of his family connections, or both. Whatever the case, they must have considered him a good risk—which, as it turned out, he was because the money was returned in a year or less,” the report says.
“DLF has disclosed that in March 2008, the Haryana government gave Sky Light Hospitality a letter of intent (LoI) for developing the Manesar land commercially. As DLF said in its press release on Saturday, “This (land) was licensable to develop a Commercial Complex and the LoI from govt of Haryana to develop it for a Commercial Complex had been received in March 2008 itself.” If you are of a suspicious bent of mind, you might wonder whether the fact that Mr Vadra had bought the land influenced the state government when it decided to give the LoI. But since the land is described as being in Sohna tehsil, just off the National Highway, in the newly developing industrial-commercial area of Manesar (beyond Gurgaon), it is a decision that may be entirely defensible. The following year (2008-09), Sky Light Hospitality paid the second instalment of Rs.7.43 crore for the Manesar land, making for a total payment of Rs.15.38 crore. It was the land bought with this money which Mr Vadra promptly offered to DLF, who agreed to pay a handsome Rs.58 crore for the 3.5 acres. DLF says in its press release that it took possession of the land in the same year (2008-09), and paid an advance of Rs 50 crore in instalments,” the report notes.
“Separately, another Rs.15 crore advance was received from DLF for the Faridabad land deal, which later fell through.
By 2009-10, Rs.50 crore had been received, separate from the Rs.10 crore received earlier and which apparently remained with Sky Light Hospitality till 2010-11. While Rs.15 crore was returned on account of the abortive Faridabad deal, Sky Light Hospitality was now cash-rich—in less than two years of Mr Vadra having got going in real estate with a single transaction. The company would now go on to fund Mr Vadra’s other real estate firms, investments in high-end apartments, and other transactions which would follow thick and fast. DLF says once the required approvals came through, the (Manesar) land was conveyanced in DLF’s name. It does not say when. However, even in 2010-11, Sky Light Hospitality’s books show an advance of a little over Rs.58 crore (equivalent to the Manesar sale price), and no booking of profits on the deal (which would have to be done if the land had been conveyanced to DLF). Perhaps this was done in 2011-12, for which the regulatory filings are not yet available,” it goes on to note.
In a news report, citing DLF officials, NDTV reports that “Vadra and his company Skylight Realty were charged penalties for late payments along with interest; the sources also revealed that in one of its housing projects, Mr Vadra bought 15 flats, of which 13 were bought back by DLF. The transactions suggest that Mr Vadra’s firm operated as a real estate trader, making mass bookings when the projects were announced, and then reselling them to either DLF or others—a standard industry practice that can lead to profits for the real estate developer as well as the trader.”
“In response to a detailed questionnaire from NDTV, DLF sources stated that not only did Mr Vadra pay market rates for the many apartments he bought from DLF, but that he was also fined for late payments in some cases. So, they allege, in the case of an apartment in the posh Aralias project in Gurgaon, Mr Vadra paid Rs.11.9 crore, which included penalties and interest for late payments. Mr Kejriwal and Mr Bhushan had accused DLF of selling this flat to Mr Vadra for just Rs.89 lakh. However, DLF sources clarified that they received a payment of Rs.11.9 crore for the Aralias apartment from Skylight Realty. NDTV has accessed the March 2011 balance sheet of Skylight Realty, which confirms the same. In June 2008, SkyLight Realty booked 15 flats in the Magnolias project, also in Gurgaon, for Rs.10,000 per square foot. Each flat was on an average about 6,000 square feet, so the price of the apartments worked out to approximately Rs.6 crore each. Three months later, DLF began buying the apartments back. By June 2010, it had bought back 13 of Mr Vadra’s 15 flats in this project. In this case, Mr Vadra could not sell his flats to a party other than DLF because being a premium project, the company did not allow these to be sold in the open market, unlike most of its other projects. DLF charged Rs.7 crore as delayed payment interest for the Magnolias apartments, according to the sources. The DLF sources told NDTV that in June 2009, Mr Vadra’s Skylight Realty booked 25 DLF Capital Greens apartments. The asking rate was between Rs.5,000 and Rs.6,000 per square foot, so Mr Vadra paid approximately Rs.60 lakh per apartment as a sort of advance or booking fee. Skylight Realty was charged an additional Rs.1 crore as delayed payment interest for these apartments, and his company has since resold them all,” the report notes.
“Independent directors on the board of DLF were party to its 2009 decision to sell 50% stake in a hotel at South Delhi to Robert Vadra-owned Skylight Hospitality, according to D.V. Kapur, an independent director,” The Indian Express said in a report.
“In a statement uploaded on the company’s website, Kapur on behalf of independent directors of DLF said the board approved the stake sale to Skylight Hospitality at an enterprise valuation of Rs.150 crore,” the report noted.
Meanwhile, in an interesting opinion piece in The Hindu newspaper, former diplomat Vivek Katju has said that at hand is an issue of propriety, more than that of law.
“The focus of the debate on the Robert Vadra-DLF real estate dealings has been on the legality of the transactions. Congress spokesmen insist that no evidence has come forth to show illegality and, therefore, rule out the need for an enquiry, while the opposition has somewhat mutedly asked for one. Though it is important to ascertain if any laws were violated, it is also necessary to go beyond the realm of the law and into the territory of propriety. Notions of propriety have changed since our freedom movement and the early years of our independence. This matter, and the revelations of the past few years, tell us the distance our polity and society have travelled since that time, unfortunately, in the wrong direction,” he says.
“We live in cynical times and any reference to probity in political and social life evokes only derision and an admonition to “get real.” Nevertheless, the times demand of us now more than ever before to reflect on what Gandhiji would have thought of all this. Gandhiji had advised those in public life that if they were ever in doubt about a policy or action they should think of how it would impact on the poorest of the poor. What would he have said to public men and their family members on contacts and dealings with businessmen? He would have certainly not suggested that they give up their trade or profession and takesanyas or not be friendly with them. Perhaps he would have recommended a simple test: that they ask themselves if a proposal or deal would have been offered to them had they not held a particular office or not been part of the family of such an office holder. This is the principal question that Mr. Vadra and his family have to address. The law may demand a direct nexus to a quid pro quo for corruption to be established but propriety makes a greater demand: that no personal benefit of a financial nature is derived on account of such a relationship,” he goes on to say.
9 October 2012
Arvind Kejriwal disclosed fresh evidence on Tuesday to back his accusations against Robert Vadra , son-in-law of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi , and accused the Haryana government of favouring property developer DLF Ltd , putting corruption-related issues back at the centre of the political debate, reports Mint
Kejriwal, who last week alleged that Vadra had purchased properties worth more than Rs.300 crore using “unsecured interest free loans from DLF”, produced more documents on Tuesday saying that the Haryana government had favoured DLF and gave it 350 acres of land in the state, cancelled a land acquisition in Manesar to favour the company and increased the floor area rate for it in the government’s Gurgaon Manesar Urban Complex Plan.
The Deccan Herald newspaper, meanwhile, draws an interesting parallel.
“As the allegations against Robert Vadra, son-in-law of Congress president Sonia Gandhi cause embarrassment to the party and country’s first political family, few would be aware that another son-in-law of the Nehru–Gandhi dynasty, Feroze Gandhi (September 12, 1912 – September 8, 1960), was instrumental in exposing independent India’s first corruption scam,” the newspaper says.
“ “A mutiny in my mind has compelled me to raise this debate. When things of such magnitude, as I shall describe to you later, occur, silence became a crime…..” were the words of Feroze Gandhi, son-in-law of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, when he rose to speak in Parliament in 1958 on the shabby deal between government-controlled Life Insurance Company and businessman Haridas Mundhra. Feroze Gandhi, husband Indira, had won the 1957 Lok Sabha elections from Rae Bareli and belonged to the treasury benches at that time, but nothing stopped him from exposing graft. The whole House listened in pin-drop silence as Feroze spoke, exposing the murky deal and concluded by establishing a conspiracy in which public funds were wrongfully employed for financing the interests of an individual at the cost of the insured. The expose resulted in the resignation of Finance Minister T T Krishnamachari and imprisonment of Mundhra. The revelations caused embarrassment to the Nehru Cabinet; however, the family could take pride in having a parliamentarian of high moral values,” the piece notes.
Meanwhile, the India Today magazine reported on various business links that Vadra has.
“He is a director in five companies—Sky Light Hospitality, Blue Breeze Trading, Sky Light Realty, Real Earth Estates, North India IT Parks, additional director in Lambodar Art Enterprises and MD of six entities—Lifeline Agrotech, Greenways Agro, Rightline Agriculture, Future Infra Agro, Best Seasons Agro and Prime Time Agro which were constituted only in 2012, according to data available from the ministry of corporate affairs as on September 28, 2012. The individual records of each company show that his companies have masses of land banks across three states. Barring the agro companies, all his other companies have a common address—268 Sukhdev Vihar, New Delhi- 110025. The property, which he first rented, was purchased from owner J.S. Walia. The first five companies have him and his mother as directors,” the report said.
“Vadra’s companies started out with promoter funding of Rs.50 lakh. Take Real Earth Estates for instance.
Rapidly, armed with loans amounting to Rs.8 crore, principally from DLF (Rs.5 crore), his own company Sky Light Hospitality (Rs.2 crore), another company owned by him Blue Breeze Trading (Rs.89.5 lakh) and another of his companies Artex (Rs.15 lakh), he began acquiring properties across north India—principally in Haryana and Rajasthan. While DLF has clarified that the Rs.50 crore transaction was for purchase a plot of land of 3.5 acres just off NH- 8 in Sikohpur village, Gurgaon district, from Vadra , the other property acquisitions across firms has not been explained yet. Sky Light Hospitality books reflect the Rs.50 crore advance,” the report further noted.
The Business Standard newspaper, in a front page story has said that auditors have raised eyebrows at DLF’s response to Vadra’s dealings with the companies.
“A senior partner of a leading audit firm pointed out accounting rules did not permit companies to give interest-free loans even to their subsidiaries, let alone others. Even as DLF claimed a business advance, and not an unsecured loan, was given to Vadra’s company, the realtor had not done enough to give specifics about the business for which the advance was paid, he said. Another chartered accountant, who also did not wish to be named, argued if an advance amount was refunded without the business maturing, there was always a doubt about the nature of the transaction. He was referring to the Faridabad land deal, in which DLF found legal infirmities at a later stage and Vadra’s company Sky Light Group refunded the Rs.15-crore ‘advance’. DLF had not shown any papers yet on any of the deals with Vadra, he said, adding the company might however do that over the coming days. According to analysts, the going rate of interest for loans in the real estate sector is anything between 14 and 18 per cent. In this case, no interest has been charged,” the newspaper report said.
“A senior representative of an accounting firm pointed out the difference between an unsecured loan and a business advance. Broadly speaking, while any loan is a contractual agreement between two or more parties accompanied by an interest at the time of payback, a business advance is usually not a contractual pact and mostly there’s no interest attached to it. While a loan is usually given against a security from the borrower, an unsecured loan is not accompanied by any such security. He added business advances were not very unusual in the industry,” the report further said.
Another CNN-IBN news report said, “In an interesting chain of events, Vadra on Monday deleted his Facebook account after a furore over his new status message that read, ‘Mango people in a banana republic’, in an apparent dig at India Against Corruption (IAC) member Arvind Kejriwal and senior Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan, who on Friday levelled allegations of corruption against him.”
8 October, 2012
The Congress on Monday said the allegations against Robert Vadra is an attack “not on an individual” but on the party and its leadership, and rejected demands for probe into his dealings with realty major DLF, a Press Trust of India report said.
“The attack (by Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan), which was made under a well-planned conspiracy was not on an individual but on Congress and its leadership. It was alleged that the blackmoney of Congress was invested in it. If such an allegation is made, a clarification will certainly come from Congress,” party spokesperson Rashid Alvi told reporters.
Shares in India’s biggest property developer DLF Ltd fell on Monday after anti-corruption activists accused the company of improper dealings with the son-in-law of the country’s ruling party chief Sonia Gandhi. Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra and DLF have denied the allegations, Reuters reported. DLF shares closed down 7.24% to Rs224.25. The benchmark Sensex declined 1.21% to 18,708.09 points.
Meanwhile, DLF has released to BSE a copy of the press release it issued on 6 October that seeks to refute the allegations against it and Vadra.
“We would like to state that the business relationship of DLF with Mr Robert Vadra or his companies has been in his capacity as an individual entrepreneur, on a completely transparent and at an arm’s length basis,” DLF said in the statement. “Our business relationship has been conducted to the highest standards of ethics and transparency, as has been our business practices, all around.”
Vadra also issued a public statement, calling the activists’ accusations “utterly false, entirely baseless and defamatory.”
Ruling out any probe into business dealings between Robert Vadra and, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said the government cannot look into private transactions unless there are specific allegations of corruption. “...unless there is a specific allegation of quid pro quo or corruption, I am afraid private transactions cannot and ought not to be allowed to be questioned on the basis of imputations and insinuations”, he said while responding to a question on the deals at the Economic Editors’ Conference in New Delhi, PTI reported.
In an opinion piece, Mint editor R. Sukumar said that given the specific charges being levelled, both Vadra and DLF would do well to set the record straight.
Citing documentary proof, the Hindu reported that Vadra’s property empire was built on soft loans handed out in unusual circumstances. The documents reveal no illegality or impropriety on the part of Vadra. Nor do they contain information to back allegations by IAC (India Against Corruption) against him and the Congress governments of Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan of a quid pro quo in which official favours were granted to DLF. But the papers do raise the question of why DLF would enter into business transactions with him on terms that appear highly preferential. The company on Saturday issued a press release setting out its version of the story. But its rationale for entering into an arrangement with Vadra remains opaque and raises corporate governance concerns about what is after all a publicly listed company. Minority shareholders could ask, for example, why an ‘advance’ was made before due diligence on a piece of property was conducted, and whether similar soft loans (or “advances” as DLF prefers to call them) and deals have been transacted with companies owned by other prominent individuals.
In 1997, the year Vadra married Priyanka Gandhi, he incorporated his first, modest business — Artex, which dealt with brass handicrafts and fashion accessories. From 2007, there was a surge in his activities. Inside of a year, he founded five other ventures, spanning the real estate, hospitality and trading sectors.
Meanwhile, television channel CNN-IBN has reported that after Vadra posted a new Facebook status that read, “Mango people in banana republic”, India Against Corruption (IAC) asked him to apologise. IAC member Arvind Kejriwal’s associate Kumar Vishwas demanded that Vadra apologise for insulting India by calling it a banana republic.
Quoting legal experts such as Ram Jethmalani and Rajeev Dhavan, The Economic Times said that since Vadra was not a public servant, he can’t be booked under the Prevention of Corruption Act for allegations levelled by Kejriwal’s newly formed political party, India Against Corruption.
Independent directors of DLF have said the controversial transactions between Robert Vadra and India’s largest realty firm were not discussed by the board and if allegations of easy loans and cheap deals are proved, they should be probed, The Economic Times said on Monday, citing two independent directors on the board of DLF— K.N. Memani and D.V. Kapur.
7 October, 2012
Sticking to its demand for an investigation into Arvind Kejriwal’s allegations on Robert Vadra’s dealings with DLF Ltd, the BJP on Sunday said those involved should put forward a “concrete clarification” on the charges to put an end to the issue, reported the Press Trust of India. “A company (DLF), which itself has a loan to the tune of Rs 22,000 crore and paying an interest of 15% thereon was extending interest-free loans worth Rs 65 crore to Vadra,” BJP national spokesman Prakash Javadekar told reporters while demanding a probe into the matter, PTI reported.
Meanwhile, Vadra dismissed as “utterly false and defamatory” allegations over his property dealings with DLF. Vadra said that his business transactions are “fully reflected” in financial statements before government authorities in compliance with the law, adding that he was saddened by the attempt of activists Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan to malign him and his family, alleging it was being done to gain “cheap publicity” and for the launch of their political party.
Kejriwal on his part claimed Vadra has not answered questions on his links with DLF and described as “half truths and lies” the clarifications of the realty major to allegations that the husband of Priyanka was given property at throwaway prices for government favours. “My business transactions are fully reflected in financial statements filed before appropriate government authorities in compliance with the law. They are available in the public domain to anyone interested in knowing the truth,” Vadra said, rebutting the charges by Kejriwal, reported PTI.
6 October, 2012
DLF issued a press release rejecting the allegations that it had given unsecured loans to Vadra as a ‘quid pro quo’ for favours and said it had transparent dealings with him as an individual entrepreneur. In a statement, the company said it had given Rs 65 crore as “business advances”, out of which Rs 15 crore was fully refunded and Rs 50 crore was used for the purchase of land.
DLF said it neither received any undue benefit from any state governments nor was it alloted any land by the Delhi, Haryana and Rajasthan governments. DLF also dismissed the charge that the company sold properties to Vadra and his companies at a throwaway price. “We would like to state that the business relationship of DLF with Mr Robert Vadra or his companies has been in his capacity as an individual entrepreneur, on a completely transparent and at an arm’s length basis,” DLF said. DLF said the business relationship with Vadra was in line with the highest ethical standards.
“We wish to categorically state that the DLF has given no unsecured loans to Mr Vadra or any of his companies. An amount of Rs 65 crore was given as business advances for the purchase of land in two transactions,” it added. DLF said it purchased 3.5 acres of land in Gurgaon from Skylight Hospitality for Rs 50 crore in 2008-09. “At no stage was an interest-free loan ever given to the Skylight group. There were two sets of business advances against purchase of property, one of which amounting to Rs 50 crore resulted in a satisfactory conclusion of purchase of commercial land and the second advance of Rs 15 crore was fully refunded,” it added. DLF also said that “it is not unusual for parties which sell land to DLF to choose to reinvest the consideration received or part thereof in projects being developed by DLF”. “There is no question of offering, let alone selling, Mr Vadra or his group companies any property at a throwaway price. The allegation that 7 apartments in Magnolias were sold for Rs 5.2 crore only is also completely baseless. At no stage was a property ever sold to the Skylight group below the then offered price to all customers,” DLF said, reported PTI .
5 October, 2012
Kejriwal, who has launched a new party after breaking ranks with activist Anna Hazare, and Supreme Court lawyer Prashant Bhushan held a press conference on Friday and alleged that Vadra, husband of Sonia Gandhi’s daughter Priyanka, purchased at least 31 properties, mostly in New Delhi, worth over Rs 300 crore for which money came from “unsecured interest-free loans from DLF Ltd”.
“They also alleged that the bulk of the properties purchased from real estate firm DLF are at a price that is far below the market price. The activists questioned whether it could be a ‘quid pro quo’ for DLF as it had benefited to the tune of around 350 acres of land in Haryana, which is ruled by the Congress. Releasing copies of documents from the ministry of corporate affairs showing Vadra’s ownership of the companies that hold the properties, they sought an independent investigation into the allegation,” reported Mint .