How Sterling Biotech’s Sandesaras Cried Religious Persecution in India to Escape the Law
Prashant Bhushan, a prominent public interest lawyer in India, called the High Court’s decision “laughable” and pointed out that the Sandesara are close to a former senior Central Bureau of Investigation official, RK Asthana, whose the girl’s wedding took place on their farm.
“Someone who is so close to Asthana cannot fear persecution by the Indian government,” said Bhushan, who in late 2017 released a newspaper owned by the Sandesaras that allegedly detailed the bribes to senior Indian officials. “A fictional show is being organized to show that an attempt to extradite them is in progress.”
Whether or to what extent the Sandesaras have been protected in India is a matter of debate. Indian authorities have sought to freeze more than $ 2 billion in Sandesara’s assets as part of their investigation.
But the oil transport data provided to OCCRP also shows that Indian state-run companies continued to buy Nigerian crude from SEEPCO even after money laundering accusations against the Sandesaras, raising questions about efforts by the Indian state and defrauded banks to recover the money they allege the family stole.
The company sold more than $ 700 million worth of crude oil which was then bought by Indian state-owned companies since the Sandasera leak, according to Sukhpal Singh, who at a much older time was in charge of a ship of transport owned and operated by SEEPCO through a subsidiary.
Documents show that SEEPCO sold the oil to the UK office of Glencore, a major commodities trader, who then sold it to three state-owned oil companies: Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited. This includes cargo sold to Indian Oil Corporation which was recovered from a terminal owned by SEEPCO in November 2020, two months after the Sandesaras were declared fugitive economic offenders.
“On paper, the supplier on the bill of lading is Glencore, but there should be no confusion that the actual supplier is Sterling Oil-Nigeria, or SEEPCO,” Singh said. In view of the information available, “it would be strange if they apparently sought political asylum in Nigeria claiming to be persecuted in India,” he added.
Singh said he even approached the Indian Supreme Court last year to try to get the state and the banks to act.
Glencore spokesman Charles Watenphul confirmed that the company bought oil from SEEPCO which was then sold to the three Indian state-owned companies. However, he rejected any suggestion that Glencore tried to cover up the origin of the oil, saying the trader had acted “in his own name and for his own account”.
Watenphul added that Glencore ended its business relationship with SEEPCO in 2020, without specifying when.
Indian Oil Corporation, Bharat Petroleum Corporation Limited and Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited did not respond to requests for comment.