Robert Vadra, the first son-in-law of the Congress Party is no stranger to alleged scams and controversies. Perhaps the most apt symbol of nepotism among political families today, Mr Vadra has been directly involved in several dubious dealings and transactions benefiting from the Congress party rule at the centre and in the states of Haryana and Rajasthan.
Let us see how he has benefited from the family connection.
The Land Grab Case in Bikaner
- In Aug 2017, the Rajasthan government recommended a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) wherein the agency registered 18 cases of fraudulent and fictitious claims against entities that included a company linked to Vadra.
- Rajasthan government had registered 18 cases, of which four related to Vadra’s company.
- When CBI registered the case, the charges included cheating and forgery relating to alleged fraudulent claims/allotments in lieu of land acquired for Mahajan Field Firing Range, Bikaner, used by the Indian Army.
- The Rajasthan government, after finding several irregularities in the land deals, had cancelled mutations (transfer of land) of nearly 375 hectares in Bikaner.
- The CBI took over the investigation of 16 first information reports (FIRs) registered in August 2014, and two in September the same year, in Bikaner, Rajasthan.
- The tehsildar of Kolyat in Bikaner district had alleged that government land in 34 villages of Bikaner district that were meant to be used for expanding the Army’s firing range, was grabbed by the land mafia.
- ED is also probing a case of money laundering out of the case, which pertains to the acquisition of around 1,400 acres sold to seven companies between 2009 and 2011. One of these was SkyLight Hospitality, a firm linked to Vadra.
- ED had registered a criminal case under the Money Laundering Act in 2015, taking cognizance of a case filed by the Rajasthan Police following forgery allegations in the allotment of land in the area, considered sensitive due to its proximity to the Indo-Pak border.
- Rajasthan home minister Gulab Chand Kataria had alleged that a company related to Vadra was involved in the purchase of 275 bighas of land in 2010 and that it sold some portions of it to another party in 2012.
- ED has also attached assets worth Rs 18 crore of government officials and others in connection with the case under the provisions of the PMLA.
How the alleged wrongdoing was done
- Skylight Hospitality owned by Vadra had bought a piece of land in Kolayat, Rajasthan, at a throwaway price and sold it at an extremely high premium through illegal transactions.
- Skylight Hospitality purchased 69.55 hectares of land for ₹ 72 lakh and sold it to Allegeny Finlease for ₹ 5.15 crore, making a profit of ₹ 4.43 crore, according to ED officials.
The Vadra-DLF Deal
- Vadra’s dealings in Haryana were questioned when the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) released a report on Haryana’s town and country planning department in March 2015
- Vadra’s Skylight Hospitality was illegally granted a license (for which it was unqualified) to commercially develop a prime plot of land in Gurgaon’s sector 83, which the company later sold at a huge profit.
- On March 28, 2008, Vadra’s company got an LoI from the Haryana government. With this LoI, in August 2008, Vadra’s company signed a ‘collaboration agreement’ with DLF.
- In April 2012, the licence was transferred to DLF and, in September 2012, Skylight sold its interest in the project to DLF. In the process, it made a profit of 700 per cent according to CAG.
- So, Vadra’s company was to provide the land and the LoI, while DLF would develop the land with its own money. In return, DLF promised Vadra half the total super area of the developed plot.
- In May 2015, the BJP-ruled Haryana government set up a one-man commission headed by Justice S N Dhingra.
- Senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka had raised the red flag back in October 2012, and cancelled the mutation of the land.
How the alleged wrongdoing was done
- The financial and technical capacity of the company was one of the criteria for acquisition of licence.
- As for the requirement of documents before Letter of Intent (LoI) and license could be granted, Skylight Hospitality did not submit any document as proof of its financial capabilities.
- The Haryana state officials played up Robert Vadra’s name and status on state government records, as they created exceptions and interpreted rules to favour the company.
- These moves were personally approved by then Haryana chief minister and Congress leader Bhupinder Singh Hooda. These decisions ultimately resulted in a commercial licence being granted to Vadra’s company.
- Whereas in other cases, the financial capability of the applicant, shown through the balance sheets or the turnover of the promoters, or an assurance from one of their associates, was used as a criterion.
- With the commercial licence in its pocket, Vadra’s company was able to sell its interest in the land to DLF at more than 700 per cent of the price at which it had acquired it, says the CAG.
- The property was of Onkareshwar Properties, whose directors had links with Hooda.
- According to CAG, of the 14 claimants for licences in Gurgaon’s sector 83, only in one case was the name of the director mentioned as the sole credential of the company.
- The CAG said it was unclear why a “distinction” was made for Robert Vadra’s company, Skylight Hospitality (Vadra a Director in the company) by the Haryana government when there were several other contenders
- Then in September 2018, an FIR was filed according to which, Vadra’s company Skylight Hospitality Pvt Ltd purchased 3.5 acre of land in Gurgaons Sector 83 from Onkareshwar Properties for Rs 7.5 crore in 2008, when Hooda was the chief minister and also held the portfolio of the Town and County Planning Department.
- Later, Skylight Hospitality sold this land to realty major DLF at a price of Rs 58 crore, after procuring a commercial licence for the development of the colony with the influence of Hooda.
- The company thus made a profit of about Rs 50 crore, according to the allegation which has been trashed in the past by Vadra.
- In return, the state government allotted 350 acres of land to DLF at Wazirabad in Gurgaon in violation of rules. In the alleged quid pro quo, the realty major made Rs 5,000 crore.
The Manesar Land Scam
- CBI had registered the case in September 2015 on allegations that private builders in conspiracy with unknown public servants of the Haryana government had purchased around 400 acres of land from farmers at throwaway prices.
- In February 2018, Hooda and 33 others were chargesheeted by the Central Bureau of Investigation in this case.
- That chargesheet was related to land deals in Manesar, Naurangpur and Lakhnoula villages of Gurgaon, alleging a scam totaling Rs 1,500
- Vadra and Hooda have been booked under Sections 420 (cheating), 120 B (criminal conspiracy), 467 (forgery), 468 (forgery for the purpose of cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document) of the IPC, and Section 13 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.
How the alleged wrongdoing was done
- To unsuspecting farmers, Haryana government had facilitated realtors acquire land at cheaper rates.
- Hundreds of land owners lived under the ‘axe of land acquisition’.
- Hundreds of acres acquired from innocent farmers at lower rates for public purpose which was ultimately licensed to real estate developers.
Therefore, to a great extent, Mr Vadra has allegedly benefited merely by being a member of Congress’ first family.