Part 1 of a 2-Part investigation
Deepak Barot, an executive from the embittered Sterling Oil Exploration & Energy Production Company (SEEMCO), which is owned by an Indian family involved in an ongoing money laundering case, has incorporated a company in Albania.
Halcon Oil & Gas Limited was incorporated on 6 October 2020 with Barot and another family member as administrators and a Nigerian Law firm as the foreign parent company.
A former employee, chartered accountant Hemant Sanmukhrai Hathi said that it was common for the family to set up accounts in the names of their inner circle, and then use them to facilitate fraud and launder money.
SEEMCO is a subsidiary of the Sterling Biotech group, which is involved in a multi-million dollar money laundering case in India. In fact, SEEMCO was subject to a seizure order. In September 2020, the Nigerian special court declared the owners of SEEMCO, Nitin Sandesara, Chetan Sandesara, and Hiteshkumar Patel as fugitive economic offenders.
In a surprising turn of events, the High Court then ruled that it would not enforce an extradition order to India.
At the time, Barot, an executive of SEEMCO, wrote to the Commissioner of the Police and Interpol to claim that all action and accusations against the Sandesara’s were nothing more than “political victimization and religious persecution.” He also urged that the letter be sent to Albanian authorities, particularly Interpol in Tirana, where the offenders were currently based, having been on the run from India since 2017 due to charges of defrauding local banks out of more than $700 million.
Despite their fugitive status, they came to Albania and were granted citizenship by President Ilir Meta in 2018.
Then in January 2019, Nitin was granted the position of honorary consul to Albania, a title he then lost just three months later.
In March 2019, while attempting to board their private jet at Tirana International Airport, Patel, believed to be the brother-in-law of Chetan, was held back and arrested. The other family members were allowed to continue despite the red notices against them. They took off and flew over Sicily and are believed to now be in Nigeria.
In 2019, Exit explained how the family was awarded citizenship while being fugitives. It also explained how they were investing in the country in the form of construction work, reportedly being carried out around by the lake in Tirana and at a resort on the coast.
The OCCRP reported that the sum of their investments is around $33 million. Border information seen by the OCCRP has confirmed that the brothers have been able to move in and out of Albania freely with no issue, despite requests from India for their extradition.
While reportedly the Interpol red notice has been lifted, Chetan has continued to travel into Albania multiple times since March 2020, and as recently as January 2021.
When asked, Albanian police said the Sandesara’s weren’t wanted locally or internationally, but that they were being investigated for money laundering. Tirana’s Prosecutor’s Office said that a request to extradite them had been made, thus contradicting the comments of the police.
The OCCRP reports that based on documents collected by them, it’s clear they benefitted from political protection and influence in Albania. This allowed them to get passports in a short amount of time while being subject to international financial crime investigations. Their freedom of movement in and out of Albania is also a significant cause for concern.
An investigation into money laundering and investments made in Albania including in Himare, Drymadhes, Dhermi, and Tirana, is ongoing, according to the OCCRP report.
The Sandesara’s deny any wrongdoing. But the opening of what appears to be a branch of their embittered Nigeran company in Albania, raises a number of questions in light of the ongoing money-laundering investigation.
In part 2, Exit will shed light on how Albanian citizenship ended up on their radar.