A month after Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari denied allegations that he had received a luxury bus from Swedish automobile maker Scania for personal use, documents from an internal inquiry by the company show that his claims were incorrect, according to a report by three media organisations.
The vehicle was allegedly used to win bus contracts in India between 2013 and 2016, alleged Sweden’s SVT, Germany’s ZDF and India’s Confluence Media. Indian news outlets The Wire, Caravan and Newslaundry have carried the investigative report too.
The documents also sugggest the involvement of Gadkari’s sons, Nikhil Gadkari and Sarang Gadkari, the reports say.
Last month, Swedish public-television broadcaster SVT reported that Scania had delivered a specially-equipped bus to a firm with links to Nitin Gadkari. The report alleged that Scania had given him the vehicle as a quid pro quo for bus contracts in seven Indian states. The vehicle was intended to be used at Gadkari’s daughter’s wedding and was not completely paid for, the report said.
A spokesperson for the company said that it had started the internal investigation into the matter in 2017. “This misconduct included alleged bribery, bribery through business partners and misrepresentation,” the official said. However, the details of the investigation were not disclosed.
The investigative report published on Tuesday cited an audit by the Swedish company, offering details of an internal communication between Scania India officials in an email thread with the subject line, “Metrolink for Mr Gadkari”. Several Scania officials, including its Chief Executive Officer Henrik Henriksson, confirmed to the three media organisations that the bus was meant for the wedding of Nitin Gadkari’s daughter, Ketki, held in Nagpur in December 2016.
“The actual acquirers of the bus were Messrs. Nitin, Sarang and Nikhil Gadkari,” Scania’s audit concluded, according to the media report.
The Gadkaris and the companies associated with them that were allegedly involved in the deal did not respond to queries, the report said.
The link between Scania India and Gadkari family
Conversations about the bus between the two sons of Nitin Gadkari with former Scania India Sales Director Sivakumar Viswam began in June 2015 and the vehicle was delivered in Nagpur for the wedding in December 2016, the report said.
In the intervening period of 18 months, Sarang Gadkari visited Scania’s factory in Bengaluru to inspect the bus, accompanied by the Swedish company’s officials in India. Meanwhile, his brother Nikhil Gadkari was in direct communication with Viswam about the deal, the media report said.
“According to sources at VW FS [Volkswagen Finance], it was their understanding that the bus was a gift by Scania India to a high politician, who is currently a minister, with the main purpose to get approvals for deals in India,” the audit stated.
Volksawagen Finance, a subsidiary of German vehicles manufacturer Volkswagen AG, had given a loan valued at Rs 2.18 crore to one of the companies used by the Gadkaris to acquire the bus from Scania.
The front companies and money trail
The audit found that the Gadkari family and Scania India used two companies for the deal. Transpro Motors Private Limited, Scania India’s local dealer in Karnataka, formally bought the bus and then rented it to a Nagpur-based company called Sudarshan Hospitality Management Private Limited.
On August 3, 2016, after the Gadkari brothers had finalised the bus and its internal modifications, Volkswagen Finance sanctioned the loan to Transpro Motors, which in turn used the money to buy the bus from Scania India, the report said. Then on November 11, 2016, Transpro Motors signed a rental contract with Sudarshan Hospitality and sent the bus to Nagpur.
However, the full rent and security deposit for the bus was never paid either by Sudarshan Hospitality or by the Gadkari family, the report alleged. As a result, Transpro Motors started defaulting on the loan it had borrowed from Volkswagen Finance. In turn, Scania India which had offered loan guarantee for the bus had to cover the cost. However, this alleged transaction was never reported to Scania authorities either in Sweden or in India.
The audit said that the Gadkari brothers had been asked by the Scania India sales director to transfer the rent of the bus to Transpro Motors several times, showing a direct connection between the vehicle and the Union minister’s family.
Sudarshan Group and the Gadkaris
Sudarshan Hospitality began business on June 9, 2015, less than a week after discussions about the bus started between Scania and the Gadkari brothers. It did not make any sales during the financial year, the report said. The next financial year it signed a deal with Transpro Motors to rent the bus.
According to the rental contract, Sudarshan Hospitality had to pay Transpro Motors an interest-free security deposit of Rs 1.2 crore, which the transport company would refund at the end of the lease period of 36 months, the report said. The company had to pay the amount in three installments of Rs 40 lakh each, starting from November 2016.
The same year, Sudarshan Hospitality received an unsecured loan of Rs 35 lakh from Manas Agro Industries, where Sarang Gadkari has been a full-time director since June 15, 2016, the report said. Manas Agro, in turn, is part of a group of companies called the Manas Group. Nikhil Gadkari is an advisor and a member of the management council of the Manas Group.