Edmonds Allen, a New York-based businessman, is behind a major investigation into corruption in Indian arms purchases. After working with alleged arms dealer Abhishek Verma, he shocked the Indian defence establishment last year when he sent a bundle of top secret documents to the ministry. The documents dealt with India’s proposed military purchases and, according to Allen, all the plans were in the hands of arms dealers. So, were people within the ministry selling the country’s procurement plans to global companies? Allen’s revelations triggered an international investigation with a joint team of the CBI and the Enforcement Directorate (ED) questioning him in New York and the FBI now joining the investigation. The money trail has taken the investigators to the US, the UK and Italy, where top executives of Finmeccanica, the parent company of AgustaWestland, were arrested for allegedly paying bribes to swing India’s VVIP chopper deal. Allen told THE WEEK that he would like to cooperate with the Indian agencies to expose corruption in defence deals.
What made you become a whistle-blower?
I was introduced to Abhishek Verma [currently in prison in Delhi] by my friends in 2000. He was introduced to me as an influential businessman from a prominent Indian political family. Verma told me he had $200m stashed away in Europe and wanted someone to handle it. I told him to invest in the US because there you can access the money, unlike in tax havens that were coming under attack from various governments. I got suspicious about his business in 2011, when he directed me to forge documents to defraud an EU businessman, Didier Tytgadt. When I declined, he threatened me. I eventually decided to expose him.
It took you more than ten years to figure out he was doing something illegal?
Yes, it may sound odd. But he is a very smart guy. He has misled so many people, including me.
Has any government agency from India been in touch with you?
I wrote to the office of the Prime Minister, the defence minister and India’s investigating agencies. There was a long silence and nobody approached me. I thought no one in India was serious about investigating widespread corruption in its military purchases. But then, last year, a team of the CBI and the ED met me in New York. I provided them all the material related to Verma and his illegal dealings. They still approach me whenever they require any further details. The FBI is also investigating the case now.
What is the FBI’s role?
The FBI is investigating illegal ties of any American individual or company with Verma and whether they have violated the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The FBI officer at the US embassy in Delhi has also approached me.
Besides Rheinmettal, did any other company offer money to Indian officials to win defence deals?
Other than the AgustaWestland case [the Italian helicopter maker is accused of bribing Indian officials to win a VVIP chopper deal], there is also one involving Greece’s Hellenic Defence Systems. There is a lot of corruption in military contracts in India. Verma would often ask me to wire money from New York for unknown reasons. In the Hawker Beechcraft deal, he brought me to India only after he had finalised the deal. It was June 2010 and I visited India for three days. I stayed at his farmhouse in Delhi. He introduced me to top executives of Hawker and we had a meeting at the Oberoi hotel. He then hosted a big party at his farmhouse in the evening where there were many Russian hookers. A number of Indian military officials were also present. That quite surprised me.
Who else was there?
I don’t remember their names. There were many people and most of them had served in the Indian military. There was an air vice marshal rank officer and there were others from the air force and the army, too. I don’t know whether they were serving or retired but there were very comfortable with the setting. Verma’s Romanian girlfriend [now wife] Anca Neacsu was also there. She is a smart woman. She used to visit offices of senior officials in India’s defence and home ministries and shot secret videos as “proof” of her husband’s high connections.
Was American defence firm Sig Sauer also associated with Verma?
Verma was keen to fix a deal for Sig Sauer. He knew about the company’s interest in India. Sig Sauer is a big company that manufactures rifles, carbines and pistols. He created a joint venture with Sig Sauer and the firm paid him $50,000 to bribe some people in India to swing the procurement deal for sniper rifles in its favour. He was also trying to approach General Dynamics. But somehow that did not work. The problem is that India has become an attractive market for military companies. They are desperate to win contracts and they don’t hesitate to pay commissions. There is big money involved.
Besides you, who else was working for Verma in the US?
I don’t think he had any employees here. He used to approach people directly through email and phone calls. He has a close friend in New Jersey called Paul Parmar. All I know is that he [Parmar] is from India and made it quite big here. He started as a property dealer and soon became one of the country’s super rich. He is often in the news for purchasing big property. He recently bought a house worth $10 million. He is currently being investigated by the FBI.
How did you get hold of hundreds of secret documents related to India’s military procurement?
I got them from Verma. He would often email me details and seek wire transfers for the consultancy services. I’ve provided the documents to the CBI and I was informed that these were secret and should not have been out in public. The documents dealt with sensitive procurement proposals.
Does Congress leader Jagdish Tytler figure in the documents?
I think Tytler got trapped. He was keen to do business for his son. But Verma cheated him somehow.
But Tytler has denied his son’s association with Verma.
That is not true. His son Siddartha Tytler was working with Verma. He was keen to establish a telecom business with American companies and he was seeking Verma’s help. They worked together with a Cyprus-based company, Corewip Limited, to establish a joint venture called GT Telecom. Tytler once spoke to me on the phone. I don’t remember whether he spoke about this telecom venture. I have never met him in person.
Are you ready to depose before the court?
Yes, I’m ready to depose before any court.
Will you come to India to join the investigation?
I cannot come to India because I fear for my safety and life. Verma is a dirty guy. I do not need to go to India as I have made myself available to Indian investigating agencies. That is why CBI was here last year
Among the leaked documents were references to the anti-tank missile?
Yes, there were documents related to the India’s military proposal to procure anti-tank guns missiles. I don’t know who provided those documents to Verma. He shared the documents with foreign defence firms. The documents were having details about the shortage of anti-tank missiles in the Indian Army, precise nature of requirement and quantity of missiles and launchers. I’ve shared the details with the CBI.
THE WEEK, May, 2013