Following the issuance of three Interpol arrest warrants, one Indian money laundering suspect- Hitesh Patel was detained in Tirana on 20th March. Two brothers- Chetan and Nitin Sandesara who are also implicated in the financial crime worth over EUR 640 million, are currently believed to be on the run in Albania.
The Chetan brothers were first named as suspects in the large-scale fraud and money laundering scandal back in October 2017 but it was not until September of 2018 that arrest warrants were issued against them by a New Delhi court.
According to Indian media, both suspects hold Albanian passports, having gained citizenship in February 2018.
Top Channel also reported that Nitin Sandesara was the honorary consul of Albania to Nigeria. Former Minister Bushati denied having any responsibility in approving him as consul, adding that it was the responsibility of security agencies in Nigeria and Albania for clearing background checks on applicants. Bushati wrote that he had strictly followed the relevant procedure for the approval.
Chetan Sandesara also met with Kosovan Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj on 22 February in Pristina, five months after the Indian arrest warrants were issued. According to news reports at the time, the two discussed the possibility of investing in Kosovo.
It is not clear if Haradinaj was aware of the pending legal proceedings against Chetan, or the warrant issued for his arrest in India some months before.
Sterling Biotech LTD, one of the companies owned by the brothers was involved in an ongoing conspiracy to feed banks false information and financial figures to secure higher loans. Once receiving the loans from a number of different banks, they would divert the funds through a complex web of shell companies and international bank accounts.
“To fulfil their criminal motive of defrauding banks, the promoters devised a multi layered strategy of cheating whereby they not only cheated banks but also cheated revenue department as well as the shareholders. Their strategy included incorporation of shell companies, conducting circular transactions to artificially inflate turnover of flagship companies, claiming higher depreciations on non-existing machinery, artificial share trading, layering and laundering of proceeds of crime within India and abroad through the web of shell companies,” the ED said in a statement in 2018.
Patel, the Indian national who was arrested in Tirana this week is accused of working with the Sandesara’s and for being instrumental in acquiring dummy directors for shell companies, facilitating fraudulent transactions, and money laundering.
The Indian Enforcement Directorate (ED) had issued a ‘red corner’ notice against Patel via Interpol on March 11th and he is now in custody awaiting extradition to India whilst the whereabouts of the Sandesara brothers is still unknown, despite an extradition order being active against them.
It remains unknown whether any of the illicit funds made their way into Albanian banks and businesses due to their links with the country.
– Nestor Papa