A fully loaded MiG 29 fighter during a combat air patrol of Ladakh skies

Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials arrive at Congress Rajya Sabha MP Ahmed Patel’s residence in connection with a money laundering case involving Sterling Biotech Ltd., in New Delhi

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel has been questioned by a team of three Enforcement Directorate officials on Sunday for his purported links with the Sandesara brothers of the Sterling Biotech group, who fled the country in 2017 after allegedly swindling several banks of several thousand crore Rupees, officials said. The Sandesaras are being probed by multiple agencies including the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and the income tax department as well.

The ED team, which arrived at Patel’s 23, Mother Crescent bungalow at around 12 noon, spent the next eight hours questioning him in this case.

When the ED team left his house, Ahmed Patel told a group of reporters waiting outside that the government was trying to divert attention from the Chinese action at the Ladakh border and the COVID-19 fallout by targeting opposition leaders.

“At a time when we have such a tense situation on the Indo-China border, China has grabbed our land and people are suffering due to mismanagement of Covid-19 crisis by this government, it is trying to divert the attention by targeting opposition leaders. I feel sorry for these (ED) officials who are being used by this government. I believe in the Constitution and have answered whatever they wanted to know.”

Patel, 70, was political secretary to Sonia Gandhi when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power between 2004 and 2014.

He had been summoned for questioning earlier but the veteran Congress leader had cited the government’s Covid-19 guidelines to express his inability to visit the agency. The health ministry had issued an advisory for citizens above 65 years to stay at home to protect themselves against the Coronavirus pandemic.

Ahmed Patel’s son Faisal Patel and son-in-law Irfan Siddiqui were questioned by ED in this case last year.

The anti-money laundering probe agency is investigating fraud worth over Rs 14,500 crore by Sterling Biotech and its promoters - Nitin, Chetan and Deepti Sandesara.

They have been absconding since 2017 and said to be hiding in Nigeria. An Interpol red corner notice request is pending against them’ and efforts to extradite them are on.

The Vadodara-based Sterling Biotech has been under investigation for three years after the CBI registered a case for alleged fraud of Rs 5,000 crore that targeted a consortium led by Andhra Bank.

In June 2019, the ED attached moveable and immovable properties worth Rs. 9,778 crores belonging to the Sandesaras including four oil rigs and oil fields in Nigeria and several ships apart from a Gulfstream aircraft and flat in London.