The Sandesara family of Sterling Biotech Ltd, on the run from over $700 million in fraud and money laundering charges in India, is being protected by Albania and Nigeria, says a report from OCCRP.org
According to the report, high-ranking officials from Albania and Nigeria helped the Sandesaras evade repeated attempts to extradite them to India to face fraud charges. "Sandesara family members were swiftly granted citizenship in Albania after pledging to invest over $33 million in construction projects with their local partner — investments which are now being investigated for money laundering," it says.
"Judges in Albania and Nigeria, where Sandesaras also have citizenship, have rebuffed India’s attempts to extradite them, arguing the charges against them are politically motivated," the report says.
Documents obtained by OCCRP shows Indian State companies continued to buy hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil sourced from the Sandesaras’ Nigerian company after the family went on the run.
According to the report, brandishing fresh Albanian passports they had been awarded by President Ilir Meta, three members of the family — Chetankumar Sandesara, his wife Diptiben, and his older brother Nitin — boarded their jet at about 5:00pm in March 2019 from Albania’s Tirana International Airport and only Diptiben’s brother Hiteshkumar Patel, who was travelling on an Indian passport, was held back, although Interpol ‘red notices’ had been issued for all four travellers.
“The other fugitive Sandesaras did not stick around to find out what happened next. Shortly after Patel’s detention, their plane’s tracker was briefly spotted, showing they were flying over Sicily. While their final destination is unknown, the direction suggested they could be heading toward Nigeria, where the family also has citizenship and political ties, and where they are widely believed to be hiding now. Patel, a key figure in overseeing the sprawling Sandesara business empire, faced only moderately worse troubles in the end: Albania granted him asylum in November 2019, and he was never charged or extradited. Over two years later, he still lives freely in the country,” the report from OCCRP says.
An OCCRP investigation has now found that high-ranking Albanian and Nigerian officials helped the family evade repeated attempts to extradite them to India. Police reports, court documents, interviews, and flight data obtained by reporters show how these officials allowed the family to move freely and continue to run their businesses while at large.
As reported by Moneylife
, the four politically powerful promoters of the Sterling Biotech group (Nitin Sandesara, Chetankumar Sandesara, Dipti Chetan Sandesara and Hiteshkumar Patel) have been absconding from India after running up over Rs15,600 crore of bad loans. They continue to manipulate the judicial system, string banks along and, now, have come up with a proposal to delay their one-time settlement (OTS) of Rs2,638 crore to December 2021. (Read: Exclusive: Fugitive Sandesara of Sterling Biotech Dictates Terms to Indian Public Sector Banks
The Sterling group is under investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), enforcement directorate (ED) and the serious frauds investigation office (SFIO) for fraud and money laundering.
Earlier in April, whistle-blower Captain Sukhpal Singh pointed out that while the Sandesaras have been declared fugitives by the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA) court in September 2020, Indian Oil Corp Ltd (IOC) is importing oil from Sterling Oil Exploration & Energy Production Company Ltd (SEEPCO) from Nigeria, a group company of the Sandesaras. (Read: Fugitive Sandesaras of Sterling Biotech Continue To Do Business with Indian Oil PSUs)
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