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Newsmaker: Ravinder Kumar Rishi

A farewell to arms?

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is a multi-faceted businessman about whom the Indian press, especially the pink papers that specialise in bombastic headlines, was extremely bullish. "Another Indian scripts success in Europe" screamed one headline. Another wrote an editorial about Rishi that was headlined: 'Flying High'. Yet another said: "Vectra scoops Czech truckmaker Tatra".

That was in 2005-07, just after the Vectra group of companies including Limited (that was listed on the BSE and NSE in 2006 as GLOBALVECT) was in its most productive phase. As Chairman of the Vectra board, Rishi was dashing across the world, Bratislava one day, Bangalore the next: Bratislava to check on the operations of Bakchus, rated the best restaurant for Indian cuisine in Slovakia by Sky-Europe Airlines.Bakchus was bought by Vectra for its historic value - a wine cellar built in the 17th century. Bakchus was known to be the only restaurant in Slovakia to have a traditional Indian tandoor and visitors would find the sitar playing there alongside compositions by Liszt.

Bangalore, because BEML Ltd and half a dozen other public sector and private sector companies were buying the Tatra truck from Vectra Azad, formed in 1993 that has its factory in Attibele, on the Hosur Road, 30 km from Bangalore. The list of clients was impressive:

Ashok Leyland Ltd, Bharat Earth Mover Ltd., Gun Carriage Factory, Jabalpur,

Hindustan Power Plus Limited and Vehicle Factory, Jabalpur. Interestingly two of Vectra Azad's clients were two of its own group companies: Tatra Trucks India Limited and Pvt Ltd.

Rishi made his money from public sector companies in Czechoslavakia that might have gone under after the division of the country, had he not bought them out. Tatra was one of them. These were then turned around and began to produce vehicles that were exported to India (among other countries) in CKD kits. The holding company was Vectra. On the books, it was Vectra that bought. This then sold the vehicles - after putting them together with just a turn of the screwdriver short of customisation - to BEML which in turn sold them to the Indian Army.

It was not just trucks. Rishi also supplied helicopters after he appointed Lt. Gen. (Retd) S.J.S. Saighal as Chairman, to another subsidiary, the Global Vectra Helicorp Limited.

By 2006-07 GVHL already had a fleet of helicopters to be increased to 29 by 2009. "We had promised our share holders that GVHL is an aggressively growing air logistics company and will bring tremendous value to their share price and we have kept that promise. GVHL is planning to increase its fleet to 29 helicopters by 2009 and we also intend tapping the deep sea air logistics market which is the next big opportunity." Gen Saighal told a press conference in 2007, shortly after the company was listed.

The Vectra group came into its own through two routes in the mid 1980s and 1990s: via strategic investments in government officials; and cherrypicking top brains from among retiring officers in the Army.

Among the good friends that Rishi had in government (which is why he has been under the CBI scanner for the last one year) were

Arvind and Tinu Joshi, 1979 batch IAS officers of the Madhya Pradesh cadre, who held important positions at the Centre from the late 1980s. Tinu Joshi served as Deputy Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office from July 1, 1988, to January 1, 1990, while was Joint Secretary in the Defence Ministry during the 1999 Kargil hostilities and was engaged in procurement.

The CBI came across Rishi's dealings when the Income Tax department was enquiring into the affairs of the Joshis.

The Joshis were raided in 2010 and the Income Tax department claims it found assets amounting to Rs 350 crore that the IAS couple could not account for. A connection found at the time was with the Vectra Group. Arvind Joshi was in the defence ministry and Vectra Indo-copters Pvt Ltd, the sole distributors of Eurocopters in India, signed major defence deals for the supply of light helicopters.

It is unclear whether Vectra Group had an association with Tinu Joshi as well. However, she was development commissioner (handicrafts), Union ministry of textiles, between 2004-07. The India Exposition Mart, spread over 235,000 sq metres in Greater Noida was developed around this time as a one-stop shop for cottage industry products. Vectra Group acquired majority shares in India Exposition Mart.

So you have to hand it to the man: from helicopters to cottage industry to speciality Indian restaurants, he ran them all. He was in India for all social events and had many other political friends as well: when the daughter of a former petroleum minister who is a close associate of the Gandhi family got married, Rishi was invited to the wedding.

Now although he is being investigated, Defence PSU veterans say very little will be found against him. That, however, is still an open question.

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