Opinion

What was the ‘personal favour’ done to the NSA in Dubai?

Strong business connections of Shaurya Doval with Saudi Arabia and UAE seem to have embarrassed the National Security Adviser to the Prime Minister, Ajit Doval

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Uttam Sengupta

CBI DIG Manish Sinha’s allegation that Dubai-based investment consultant Manoj Prasad had done the NSA a personal favour has embarrassed the Government. While the buzz is that the ‘favour’ may have had something to do with the business dealings of Doval’s eldest son, Prasad, who was arrested by the CBI on October 16 when he landed in Delhi, was released from police custody on October 31.

Even more embarrassing are reports of Shaurya Doval’s business interests in Saudi Arabia and Dubai. An investment banker in his earlier avatar, Doval Jr is Managing Director of several financial firms, in all of which a member of the Saudi royal family is the chairman. Prince Mishaal bin Abdullah bin Turki bin Abdulaziz Al Saud was chairman of Zeus Caps and continues to be chairman of Torch, which was formed after taking over Zeus Caps. Torch Financial Services has its India office at Doval’s house in Sector 44, Noida. It has offices in both Jeddah (SA) and Dubai.

The Dovals’ Middle East connections are strong. Torch Financial Services have offices in Dubai and Singapore. Another company, Gemini Corporate Finance Limited, of which Doval Jr is also the Managing Director, was registered in 2016 and the company secretary is said to be Intertrust (Dubai) Limited and Auditor the Dubai branch of Ernst & Young.

When a Saudi diplomat in Delhi was accused of torturing and raping his two Nepali maids in his Gurgaon flat in 2015, Indian authorities first allowed him to move into the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi with his family and then leave the country. His diplomatic immunity did not cover the criminal offence committed on Indian soil (a comparison is readily drawn with the murder of Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul) but the Indian Government, unlike Turkey in the Khashoggi case, did not make an issue of it.

Rightly or wrongly, the NSA’s name was dragged into the scandal and it was said that he had played a role in letting the Saudi diplomat off the hook. The Indian Government’s conduct was curious in view of the stand BJP had taken on Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s treatment in the US.

Shaurya Doval’s selection in 2015 as an Eisenhower Fellow, the only Indian selected for the specific programme (there were two each from Vietnam, Chile and Nigeria for the specific programme that year) had also raised eyebrows. While the Eisenhower Foundation with General Colin Powell as chairman of the Trust does happen to be a non-profit, the propriety of the NSA’s son singled out for the six-week programme also raised eyebrows.

Dubai is known to have emerged as the Mecca for Indian High net Worth individuals, many of whom have invested in real estate there. So much so that real estate companies in Dubai now hold regular meets in Mumbai to facilitate purchase of property by Indians in UAE.

Names of Doval and Special Secretary, RAW Samant Goel getting linked to Manoj Prasad and the bribing allegation in the CBI vs CBI case, in which the NSA is said to have refused permission to seize mobile phones of the Special Director and CBI DySP Devinder Kumar, open up questions on the nature of the relationship.

In recent years, Dubai has emerged as a route for money laundering. And the strong Dubai connections of the NSA Ajit Doval and his son have added to the perception that there are serious conflicts of interest between the NSA and his son’s business interests.

Rightly or wrongly, the NSA’s name was dragged into the scandal and it was said that he had played a role in letting the Saudi diplomat off the hook. The Indian Government’s conduct was curious in view of the stand BJP had taken on Indian diplomat Devyani Khobragade’s treatment in the US

Curious case of Princess Latifa

India and Dovals’ Dubai connections do not end there. UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi in 2017.

And when a member of the UAE’s royal family tried to escape to India in March 2018, Indian Coast Guard picked her up and she was handed back to UAE authorities. The Coast Guard chief was Vice Admiral HCS Bisht, a fellow Garhwali from Uttarakhand. In July, the Vice Admiral handed over charge to Rajendra Singh, another Garhwali, and the first Coast Guard chief who is not from the Navy.

The daring escape of princess Latifa from Dubai and her ‘abduction’ by the Indian Coast Guard off the coast of Goa did not create ripples in India, not even after the Washington Post published a report with the provocative headline, “India’s Modi authorised capture of runaway Dubai princess, newspaper claims”.

The report was sensational enough. On March 4 this year, three Coast Guard ships, helicopters and an air surveillance aircraft were pushed into service, it claimed, after Prime Minister Modi himself authorised the operation. It is unlikely that the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval would have been kept out of the loop.

Princess Latifa (Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum), daughter of the Dubai ruler, had reportedly planned to seek asylum in the United States. Estranged from her father, who is said to have multiple wives and dozens of children, she had planned her escape meticulously. She recorded a video statement to explain why she wanted to escape and lead a ‘normal life’, complaining of being confined, tortured and her movement restricted. While the video was smuggled to England, she enlisted the help of a friend and a former French ‘intelligence’ operator to help her reach India on a yacht.

While Indian authorities have officially said nothing, it is believed that they acted on the request of the Dubai ruler to rescue his daughter who, he claimed, had been abducted. Since no information about the princess has surfaced since her ‘rescue’, a complaint was filed by her friends with the UN Human Rights Commission.

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