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Businessman Robert Vadra, the brother-in-law of Congress president Rahul Gandhi, appeared before the Enforcement Directorate (ED) Wednesday in connection with a case of alleged money laundering related to certain properties in the UK. This is the first time Vadra has appeared before any central probe agency.

Vadra has been called again on Thursday. His’s wife Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accompanied him to the ED office at Jamnagar House in New Delhi before heading to her new office at the Congress headquarters — she is now a party general secretary. “I stand by my family…everyone can see what is happening,” she told reporters.

The case relates to properties in London which, the ED claims, are linked to Vadra and have been purchased through absconding arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. In the past, Vadra has denied any association with any property in London.

ED sources claimed that the matter is linked to a Petroleum Ministry deal in 2009, during the rule of the UPA, in which alleged kickbacks flowed into a UK-based company named Syntak.

The company had Bhandari as it director and the ED told a court recently that property at Bryanston Square in London was bought by Bhandari from money that had flowed into the company. The money was allegedly routed through another company named Vortex, the ED told the court.

ED sources claimed that shortly after the Petroleum Ministry deal, Syntak received close to $49.9 lakh in its account via a single transaction on June 13, 2009.

The ED told the court that Bhandari used 1.9 million GBP of this money to buy the London property in 2009. It alleged that Bhandari subsequently sold it to an entity linked to Vadra in 2010 at the same price despite carrying out renovations of over 65,000 GBP.

Last Saturday, the ED told the court that its probe had further found several other properties in London that were suspected to be linked to Vadra. The agency also cited an email exchange where renovation of the London property was being discussed.

Vadra quizzed about links with Bhandari

On Wednesday, ED sources said, Vadra was questioned about his association with Bhandari and transactions. He was also confronted with documents that the ED claims connect him with certain overseas properties.

Vadra’s lawyer Suman Khaitan was not available for comment despite calls and text messages from The Indian Express. Local Congress leader Jagdish Sharma, who had earlier been questioned by the ED in connection with a property in the Malcha Marg area of New Delhi, was present outside the ED office when Vadra arrived there. He claimed Vadra was being framed.

On December 7, 2018, the ED conducted searches in Delhi and Bengaluru and one of the premises searched, according to Vadra’s lawyer Khaitan, was Vadra’s office in Sukhdev Vihar, New Delhi.

After the searches, Khaitan, in a statement posted by Vadra on his Facebook page, said: “We apprehend that they are going to plant false, fabricated and incriminating material in Shri Robert Vadra’s office as also exercise illegal coercion to create undue harassment and pressure.”

BJP attacks Congress

Meanwhile after Vadra’s interrogation, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra Wednesday alleged that Vadra “bought eight to nine properties in London” from the money he received as kickbacks from petroleum and defence deals in 2008-09 when UPA was in power, PTI quoted as saying.

Aiming the question at Vadra, Patra asked: “What is the formula of becoming crorepati from roadpati”. Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Patra further alleged corruption as Congress’ core agenda. “The 2019 Lok Sabha election is a fight between the gang of corrupt versus transparency of Narendra Modi government,” he said.

Why before polls? asks Mamata Banerjee

However, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee slammed the Centre for the interrogation of Vadra, claiming that the BJP was deliberately doing it ahead of the general election.

Asserting that the Bharatiya Janata Party would not be able to scare the Opposition by the tactics of sending notices “casually to everybody”, Banerjee said: “We will complain to the Election Commission against such trend.”

“They (the Centre) are doing it deliberately ahead of the polls,” the Trinamool Congress supremo told reporters at the state secretariat.