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Behind Robert Vadra’s fortune, a maze of questions

Shalini Singh
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Property empire was built on soft loans handed out in unusual circumstances, documents show

In February, as rumours of the ambitions of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law swirled amidst the heat and dust of the election campaign in Uttar Pradesh, her daughter Priyanka moved to scotch speculation about Robert Vadra’s possible political future.

“He’s a successful businessman,” the younger Ms. Gandhi said of her husband, “who is not interested in changing his occupation.”

Even though Mr. Vadra has increasingly emerged in the public eye, there has been little information on just how successful a businessman he is — and how his empire was built.

Last year, The Economic Times first wrote about his “low-key entry into the real estate business” with the help of DLF Ltd, India’s largest commercial property developer. And on Friday, Arvind Kejriwal and Prashant Bhushan of India Against Corruption (IAC) released documents which showed how Mr. Vadra has acquired land assets in and around the National Capital Region worth hundreds of crores of rupees, sometimes at prices below market value — funded by interest-free loans disbursed to him by DLF and other companies for no apparent reason.

The documents reveal no illegality or impropriety on the part of Mr. Vadra. Nor do they contain information to back IAC’s allegations against him and the Congress governments of Haryana, Delhi and Rajasthan of a quid pro quo in which official favours were granted to DLF. But the papers do raise the question of why DLF would enter into business transactions with him on terms that appear highly preferential. The company on Saturday issued a lengthy press release setting out its version of the story. But its rationale for entering into an arrangement with Mr. Vadra remains opaque and raises corporate governance concerns about what is after all a publicly listed company. Minority shareholders could ask, for example, why an ‘advance’ was made before due diligence on a piece of property was conducted, and whether similar soft loans (or “advances” as DLF prefers to call them) and deals have been transacted with companies owned by other prominent individuals.

In 1997, the year Mr. Vadra married Priyanka Gandhi, he incorporated his first, modest business — Artex, which dealt with brass handicrafts and fashion accessories. From 2007, there was a surge in his activities. Inside of a year, he founded five other ventures, spanning the real estate, hospitality and trading sectors.

Ms. Gandhi maintained a distance from these companies: in 2008, she dissociated herself from the sole business in which she was involved, aircraft charter firm Blue Breeze Trading.

From balance sheets and directors’ reports released by IAC and additional papers obtained by The Hindu , which relate to six group companies, it is clear that Mr. Vadra’s rise was meteoric. In 2007-2008, his companies started out with promoter funds of just Rs. 50 lakh. However, the companies succeeded in acquiring 29 high-value properties…

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