Ajay Chautala has been a lawmaker since 2004, and he is now being charged by the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence of being a law-breaker. The DRI has charge-sheeted the Rajya Sabha MP for violating import regulations relating to his Toyota Prado SUV. Chautala's defence: somebody else misled him.
As per the DRI chargesheet, the SUV was imported under a government scheme that entitled it to a waiver of 105 per cent duty on the grounds that it would be used in the tourism industry. Instead, the Prado ended up as Chautala's personal vehicle.
The second violation: the Prado, licence plate HR24H9777, was falsely registered, the DRI chargesheet says. The licence plate had been originally allotted to a white Toyota Sygnus, not to Chautala's lime-green Prado. And the Sygnus's "owner" was a G. Raja Reddy of Andhra Pradesh — a blue-collar worker in Dubai who, the chargesheet says, had been persuaded to part with his signature for Rs 10,000.
The third and the most serious violation, the DRI says, was that the Prado, with its dubious registration papers, had been given security clearance to enter Parliament's grounds. It also sported a red beacon — that ultimate VIP symbol — courtesy the Haryana police.
The MP had bought the car from travel agent Sanjay Bhandari. Bhandari had imported 60 foreign-manufactured cars under the Export Promotion Capital Goods Scheme. The EPCG scheme allows hotels, golf resorts and tour operators to import cars by paying a meagre 5 per cent duty. The importer is required to pay five times of the duty saved over a period of eight years.
Chautala is not the only one in the DRI's sights. The agency has charge-sheeted 103 other private individuals, car dealers and companies for misusing the EPCG scheme. In raids conducted between September 2005 and March 2006, the DRI seized 80 cars. Bhandari accounted for the imports of three-quarters of these suspect vehicles.
Chautala has an explanation for what happened. “Yes, I have received the notice from the DRI. I agree that I had not paid the duty, but have paid it now. Bhandari had misled me. It was he, who got the car registered by submitting forged papers to the transport authority," Chautala said. Chautala who had bought the Prado for Rs 20 lakh in June 2004 has since paid up the full duty due on the SUV – Rs 18.54 lakh. He faces further penalties if the DRI finds against him once the adjudication process is complete.
Bhandari was detained on smuggling charges last year — he is out on bail now. He claims to own a resort near Jaisalmer but DRI agents found just a vacant piece of land at the address with not even a road connecting it to the rest of the world.