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How India got UAE to deliver AgustaWestland accused Rajiv Saxena, lobbyist Deepak Talwar

At 11.25pm on January 30, an Aviation Research Centre Gulfstream jet arrived in New Delhi from Dubai carrying Rajiv Saxena, a co-accused in the AgustaWestland case, and Deepak Talwar, a lobbyist accused of other economic offences in India.

india Updated: Feb 01, 2019 09:19 IST
Shishir Gupta
Shishir Gupta
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rajiv Saxena (C), an accused in India's abortive, scandal-tainted helicopter deal with Anglo-Italian firm Agusta Westland, is escorted by police as he leaves a court in New Delhi, India, January 31, 2019. (Reuters)

When India’s National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval met his UAE counterpart in January, he had a request: that the two countries cooperate in acting on those accused of economic offences in India and were living in the West Asian country.

Doval’s request was significant — India has had little luck in getting its hands on economic and other offenders living in UAE. At last count, 257 letters rogatory from the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate (ED) were pending with UAE authorities.

These are letters written by agencies in Country A for investigative and judicial help to another Country B with which the fist country doesn’t have a treaty to facilitate such cooperation.

That marked the beginning of a process that ended with the arrival in New Delhi, at 11.25pm on January 30, of an Aviation Research Centre Gulfstream jet from Dubai carrying Rajiv Saxena, a co-accused in the AgustaWestland case. Also on the flight was Deepak Talwar, a lobbyist accused of other economic offences in India. On Thursday, ED was given Saxena and Talwar’s custody for four and seven days respectively.

Things moved rapidly after Doval’s meeting.

Diplomats based in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and New Delhi said on condition of anonymity that the names of Saxena, a close associate of Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland deal, and Talwar, who is believed to be close to several Indian politicians, was first mentioned by Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) chief Anil Dhasmana in a meeting with his UAE counterpart on January 24 in Abu Dhabi.

UAE authorities were shown papers linking the two to economic offences worth thousands of crores in India, the first in the case of the purchase of VVIP choppers and the second in an investigation over the purchase of civilian aircraft.

Discreet surveillance launched the same day by UAE agencies revealed that Saxena was living in the upscale Palm Jumeirah area while Talwar was taking a plane to Muscat that day on a one-way ticket. Fearing that the corporate lobbyist was fleeing the country, an alert was sounded and UAE authorities ensured that Talwar did not board the flight to Oman.

Discussions on how to hand over the two to Indian authorities followed, and UAE authorities feared an onslaught from high-profile lawyers if the two, both with resources and influence, were detained and then handed over to Indian officials. It was decided that the best way to deport them was for Indian authorities to cancel their passports, which were renewed in Dubai.

The Indian government moved fast, and within a day, on January 25, the passports were cancelled on the basis of accusations against the two. UAE authorities were intimated and the ARC plane was put on standby. ARC is the aviation arm of R&AW. On Tuesday, UAE authorities gave a green signal to Doval and Dhasmana to pick up “the two ready parcels”. However, the plane could only take off a day later due to a delay in receiving flight permission.

The diplomats put the operation as another sign of growing security cooperation between the two countries.

They added that the ARC aircraft left New Delhi airport at 1130am on Wednesday and returned with the two prize catches 12 hours later. By the time the plane landed, the duo’s lawyers were already issuing statements over the illegality of their effective extradition.

The speed at which authorities at both ends functioned is evident from the fact that Talwar was given a jacket by officials on landing to ward off the Delhi cold (he was wearing a half-sleeved shirt). At 2.34am, the two were handed over to ED officials.

First Published: Feb 01, 2019 07:10 IST