On Wednesday afternoon, a security camera at a toll crossing in Maharashtra’s Satara caught five SUVs zooming past, their speed unchanged on a highway deserted because of the coronavirus lockdown. Among the 23 people riding in these cars were Dheeraj and Kapil Wadhawan, the billionaire promoters of the scam-hit Dewan Housing Finance Limited (DHFL), wanted in a fraud investigation by the CBI.
Weeks ago, they had skipped summons to appear for questioning in a money-laundering investigation, citing COVID-19. “Health is a priority,” they claimed after their no-show.
That was forgotten when the brothers, their families, cooks and helps, drove 180 km from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar for a holiday, bundled into two Range Rovers and three Fortuners.
Among the visuals that have emerged from the short-lived “lockdown vacation” are the gates of the farmhouse in Mahabaleshwar, with “Wadhawan House” written on them, and a long driveway.
The farmhouse beyond the high walls may be nothing like the government school at Panchgani where the entire group is quarantined now.
The Wadhawans are under police surveillance; a CBI court has written to the local authorities not to let them go without a clearance from the investigating agency.
There is outrage over the special passes given to the brothers, who are under investigation over multiple fraud charges.
Their controversial journey was facilitated by Amitabh Gupta, Principal Secretary, Home, Maharashtra government, now sent on compulsory leave.
The group was “well-known to me as they are my family friends and traveling from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar for family emergency,” said the letter signed by the officer, along with the names of the riders in each car.
Maharashtra has the highest number of coronavirus cases, 1,364, including 97 deaths.
Kapil and Dheeraj Wadhawan had lookout notices in their name, issued by the CBI. They are facing two investigations, one related to the diversion of at least Rs 14,000 crore from DHFL using fake borrowers and alleged kickbacks taken by Yes Bank promoters in exchange for loan to DHFL.
The CBI searched their premises on March 9 but they were missing. Sources say now that they have been tracked down, the agency is unlikely to let them go easily.