That Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan travelled on 9 April 2020 from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar with an entourage of 21 others, despite the country-wide lock-down, is well known by now.
That they were helped by a letter from Amitabh Gupta, principal secretary (special), government of Maharashtra is equally well known. Mr Gupta has since been sent on compulsory leave and a probe has been initiated against him for helping the Wadhawans who are now in forced quarantine.
Ostensibly, the law is taking its course. But is the issue related only to the violation of lock-down rules? Or are some very critical issues being obfuscated to help the rich and powerful? Corruption continues to thrive even in times of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. To appreciate the real story, it is important to have some insights into the background of the Wadhawans.
Dewan Housing Finance Ltd (DHFL) Scam
The Wadhawans are the promoters of the DFHL. Towards end January 2020, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) has told a dedicated court dealing with money laundering offences that Rs12,773 crore was allegedly siphoned off over the past decade from DHFL through about one lakh fictitious borrowers whose accounts were created to route the money into about 80 shell companies. The ED had also alleged that the Wadhawans had used a part of these funds to pay Rs150 crore to the late drug lord Iqbal Mirchi against three properties purchased from him whose book value was shown as Rs111 crore only.
DHFL and the Yes Bank Scam
In early March 2020, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a criminal case against Rana Kapoor, former founder and CEO of Yes Bank, Wadhawans, the promoters of DHFL and some others.
CBI has alleged that between April and June 2018, Yes Bank invested Rs3,700 crore in the short-term debentures of DHFL. As a quid pro quo, Wadhawan’s DHFL paid kickbacks worth Rs600 crore, in the form of loans, to “Do it Urban Ventures”, a company owned by Mr Kapoor’s three daughters.
It is alleged that Yes Bank did nothing to recover the said Rs3,700 crore loans given to DHFL which eventually turned into an non-performing asset (NPA).
NBW and LOC against the Wadhawans
The Wadhawans had earlier secured bail in connection with the above cases. Before the lock-down, the CBI had searched their premises at various locations including Mahabaleshwar to question them. Not surprisingly, CBI failed to locate them. It then obtained a non bailable warrant (NBW) from a special court.
Summons from the ED were avoided by the Wadhawans hiding behind the excuse of social distancing being enforced by the government to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A look out circular (LOC) was issued against them to prevent them from fleeing the country.
How could CBI fail to locate the well-known Wadhawans for questioning, especially after the lock-down was imposed ?
Now that the Wadhawans have been located, does it suffice to merely quarantine them instead of taking them into custody, lest they slip away one more time?
Is suspension of Mr Gupta, the principal secretary (special) of home department in Maharashtra sufficient? Should he not have been arrested? Being an officer from the Indian Police Service (IPS) himself, it is incomprehensible that he did not know of the CBI and ED’s cases against the Wadhawans.
In any case, the letter issued by him authorising the Wadhawans to travel was illegal. It is only the inspector generals, commissioners and district superintendents of police who are authorised to issue travel passes during the lock-down.
Could Mr Gupta have managed this coup alone? Many other high and mighty must have been involved in it.
The entourage of 23 included one bodyguard from Italy: one of the worst affected countries due to COVID-19. Why did alarm bells not ring immediately?
Law Only for the Common Man
It is perhaps unfair to single out the Wadhawans. It is also a myth that all are equal before the law. The rich and powerful have their own code.
A member of legislative assembly (MLA) was seen celebrating his birthday with several villagers in Gubbi taluk in Tumkur, Bangalore (see pic below).
Meanwhile, scores of people around the country are getting booked for violating the lock-down. In Uttarakhand alone, more than 4,500 people had been arrested until 10th April for violating the lock-down. Arrests and detentions in Delhi were close to 5,000, over 2100 in Kerala and about 1,500 in Assam. Even morning walkers have been arrested.
The world over, doctors are working overtime to find a vaccine for COVID-19. Realistic estimates range from six months to two years. One can only hope that they also stumble upon a vaccine to fight corruption which does not have any end date and is immune even to COVID-19.
(Sarvesh Mathur is a senior financial professional, who has earlier worked as CFO of Tata Telecom Ltd and PricewaterhouseCoopers.).