10 years after being imprisoned in a weapons case, ‘Lord of War’ Abhishek Verma resurfaces as a Delhi tycoon
New Delhi: A Rolls Royce enters the frame, three uniformed policemen armed with automatic weapons guarding its occupant. One can come across plenty of such videos on social media of this Gatsby-like figure flaunting fancy watches, smoking expensive cigars and hosting lavish parties with belly dancers entertaining guests.
Once given the nickname “Lord of War”, Abhishek Verma, and his wife, former Romanian model Anca Verma, do not hide their luxurious lifestyle despite accusations of violation of official secrets law and money laundering, among others.
Ten years after his arrest following a scandal allegations from routing payments by blacklisted Swiss defense supplier Rheinmetall Air Defense, Verma is now trying to rebrand himself as a businessman. And at the heart of his plans is a company called Olialia, with interests ranging from tobacco and fashion to colas, and even an international airport.
Of the seven cases against him, five were registered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and two by the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Of those cases, Verma was acquitted in three cases and faces trial in the other four.
Claiming that all of the lawsuits against him are “bogus,” Verma told ThePrint that these “politically motivated” lawsuits were filed at the “request of a few political rivals” he had in Congress.
His mother Veena Verma is a three-time former MP for Rajya Sabhawhile his father, the poet Shrikant Verma, was a Congress leader who also served as a member of the Rajya Sabha of Madhya Pradesh.
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Verma’s contacts with central agencies date back to 1999, when the ED booked him for alleged violations of the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA). Verma was charged with using a Bank of India account to buy and sell currencies to persons other than authorized dealers between 1991 and 1992. The trial in this case is still ongoing.
In October 2005, India, after four years of negotiations, signed one of its biggest arms purchase deals to acquire six Scorpene submarines from the French company Thales. In 2006, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) accused Verma in parliament of receiving bribes of up to $200 million from Thales as a middleman for this deal. Verma then denied the charges and filed a defamation suit against BJP leader LK Advani.
The CBI informed the Supreme Court in 2009 that it had lack to establish a link between Verma and the submarine affair. ED’s efforts to locate accounts the agency felt that Verma being held in Liechtenstein also did not bear fruit.
In 2006, the Naval War Room Leak case – involving more than 7,000 pages of sensitive information allegedly leaked from the Naval War Room and Indian Air Force HQ – was filed. Verma was arrested in the case the same year and spent two years in prison before being released on bail. The trial in this case is still ongoing.
Verma was warned in another case – still on trial – under the Prevention of Corruption Act in 2012 for allegedly writing a letter to the Prime Minister on a forged then Minister of State (MoS) letterhead for the interior, Ajay Maken, asking for a relaxation of business visa standards.
In June 2012, Verma was arrested again for allegedly taking $530,000 from Rheinmetall Air Defense in order to exert his influence to block the government-initiated blacklisting procedure against the Swiss company following the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) scam. He was acquitted in this case in 2017. That same year, he was also acquitted in a money laundering case filed by the ED in 2012.
Verma was convicted under the Official Secrets Act in 2012 for alleged possession classified Ministry of Defense (MoD) documents, including records related to Air Force acquisition plans, and minutes of a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board.
The case against him was filed after a formal complaint from the Department of Defense alleging that the documents shared by Verma’s U.S. attorney were classified and possessing them amounted to a violation of the Official Secrets Act.
This case is also under investigation.
Verma, however, maintains that he was never associated with any defense deal. “I have never been associated with defense agreements. We had communication projects and it was with BSNL. We did not have a contract with the MoD, we only provided equipment to BSNL and carried out some parts of the equation at the back,” he said.
Alleging that all the cases filed against them were the result of a ‘political vendetta’, Verma told ThePrint: ‘We were there for false allegations which all led to acquittals and releases and the three ongoing cases , in all, witnesses have come forward and no wrongdoing has been attributed to me.
“In the OSA case, nothing was attributed to me and in fact, the documents there, all the witnesses said that these are not documents that are classified (sic). It’s there in the witness testimony,” he added.
Stay in Tihar prison
During his stay in Tihar prison between 2006 and 2008, then again between 2012 and 2016Verma “had everything from outdoor food to fancy clothes,” a source told ThePrint.
“Once during a raid, prison officials had recovered many designer clothes. In fact, once a prison officer discovered the search that was to take place inside his cell, he alerted Verma, affecting the seizure,” the source added.
Verma denied receiving any special treatment and said an investigation into the matter found he committed no violations. “A letter was written to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by C. Edmonds Allen, my former lawyer in the United States, making these allegations and there was an investigation. However, it was found that there was no abuse of any facilities in Tihar.
“I had no food from outside except for the medical diet prescribed by doctors in Tihar,” Verma said, adding that “non-spicy” food was cooked for him separately in Tihar with permission from the All India Institute of Medical. Sciences (AIIMS).
“I was in the Vipassana neighborhood for meditation, and as a policy there, they serve non-spicy food, no onion or garlic or coffee or tea,” he said.
Verma, however, admitted that he wore designer clothes inside the prison. “If you ask whether I wore nice suits or not, yes. When I was in Tihar, that didn’t mean I had to wear shabby clothes and not shave. Sub-trials, in accordance with prison rules, can stand and are not allowed to change their usual appearance.
“All my clothes and bedding were brought in according to prison rules. We brought it all through the front door. Now if I go to jail, that doesn’t mean I start wearing a Kambal (blanket) and not brushing my teeth,” he added.
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According Olialia’s websiteits investment team focuses on “the core consumer sectors of FMCG, Infrastructure and Media, Music and Entertainment, Financial Services, Transportation and Airports”.
Olialia was even invited to build an international airport in the Maldives – Maldivian media later revealed that the company was shortlisted but no deal was signed.
“We have always been in business and FMCG is our forte now. Our brand comes from Lithuania which we acquired a few years ago and launched several products in India and abroad with this brand, which includes pan masala, tobacco, frozen food, beer and cigarettes. “We will soon be launching the cola. We have other products of this brand in the Baltic countries and in the Maldives we are developing an international airport,” Verma told ThePrint.
He further explained that the brand was “partially acquired in 2011” but it all “stopped” in 2012 with his and his wife’s arrest. “In September 2016 we exited and in 2017 we launched all these businesses together which is now going very well and we hope to grow further and take it to new heights.”
‘Being rich in India, a crime?
“I am a businessman, an industrialist and we produce goods, so if we are rich, what is the sin? Why so much scrutiny? Wealth is nothing new to me. I was brought up in it. In India, is being rich a crime? Verma asked.
However, law enforcement sources say their investigation revealed that, despite not having a bank account in India, Verma still managed to pay high rent for his farmhouse and luxurious lifestyle – claims that Verma called it “baseless”.
Verma further clarified that a Delhi court granted him police cover in 2017 to protect him from alleged threats because of his role as a witness in a 1984 riots case.
People often question my wealth and lifestyle, thinking I may have made money “illegally” through “defense deals,” Verma said, saying such ideas are ” completely false” because he is the head of a “FMCG and infra-thriving company”. ”.
(Editing by Amrtansh Arora)
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