Sudhir Choudhrie: Arms Dealer, Art Collector & Philanthropist 

He is now India’s longest lasting arms dealer, with a net worth of more than £2 billion. 

Published
India
5 min read
Sudhir Choudhrie is an Indian entrepreneur, philanthropist, former diplomat and alleged arms dealer. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://vimeo.com/184843165">Vimeo</a> screenshot/Altered by <b>The Quint</b>)

Sudhir Choudhrie is an alleged middleman for multi-billion dollar international arms deals with India. But he’s also a lot, lot more than that.

Sudhir Choudhrie (left) with his family. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://www.asian-voice.com/News/UK/London/MF-Husain-The-Journey-of-a-Legend2">Asian Voice</a>)
Sudhir Choudhrie (left) with his family. (Photo courtesy: Asian Voice)

He’s a London-based entrepreneur, winner of the Asian Business Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, philanthropist, patron of the arts, vintage car collector. and yet to be convicted of pocketing billions of dollars, illegally, over three decades now.

Ghosts of Past Come to Haunt

In 2014, London-based Choudhrie and his son Bhanu were arrested by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO). The Office was investigating the claim that British giant Rolls Royce paid several million dollars to shell companies affiliated to Choudhrie to cement the $2.1 billion deal for engines on the Hawk advanced trainer aircraft used by the Indian Air Force.

They were released on bail when no critical evidence was found. The investigations initiated by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) against him met a similar fate.

In a recent investigation by The Guardian and the BBC into Choudhrie’s empire, secret documents have come to light. These show “suspicious” financial transaction by Rolls Royce to companies linked to Choudhrie to the tune of £10 million. They also reveal transactions worth nearly €100 million between state-owned Russian defence and arms firms to Choudhrie’s and his son Bhanu’s paper companies in a one-year period alone.

Crossing Over to the Dark Side

Refusing to join his family business, Choudhrie began experimenting with television imports from the UK to the Indian government in the late 1960s. His business as a middleman expanded to consumer goods, primarily buying from the Soviet Union, then India’s largest trading partner.

Indian Air Force signed a £2.1 billion deal with BAE Systems for Hawk planes, with Rolls Royce as their engine manufacturers. (Photo courtesy: <a href="https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b6/Indian_Air_Force_BAE_Systems_Hawk_132_Lofting-1.jpg">Wikipedia Commons</a>)
Indian Air Force signed a £2.1 billion deal with BAE Systems for Hawk planes, with Rolls Royce as their engine manufacturers. (Photo courtesy: Wikipedia Commons)

In the late ’70s, Choudhrie’s mediation crossed the line from legitimate business to alleged illegal brokering of arms deals. The venture had the blessings of his uncle B K Kapoor, then Chairman of state-owned defence group Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

Slowly but surely, word of his influence in defence deals spread.

Soon enough, Choudhrie became the longest lasting arms dealer of India. He evaded conviction twice and was the architect of some of the biggest deals in Russia, Israel and India. The man is on first-name basis with Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, UK’s David Cameron and Theresa May, and Russia’s Vladmir Putin. 

Having successfully evaded scrutiny by the CBI and SFO, the government of India placed him on the ‘Undesirable Contact Men’ list which forbids companies from dealing with him and officials from entertaining him.

The More You Know
Choudhrie’s Indian home was raided eight years ago by the CBI while investigating claims that he was paid about £90,000 commission. This was allegedly as part of a deal to buy artillery guns from Israeli company Soltam. His company also figured in the investigation into the country’s purchase of Israeli Barak missiles in 2006-2007. 

The Joy of Giving Back

Choudhrie and his wife Anita support many charities in India and abroad. They are also benefactors of Oxford University, where a library has been named in Choudhrie’s honour, and Columbia University.

What perhaps is less spoken of is Choudhire’s regular funding of the UK Liberal Democrats since 2004, now accounting to a whooping £260,000.

A screenshot from UK’s Election Commission website showing records of Choudhrie’s donation to the Liberal Democrats. (Photo: Screenshot)
A screenshot from UK’s Election Commission website showing records of Choudhrie’s donation to the Liberal Democrats. (Photo: Screenshot)
Besides, political donations made by Alpha C&C, a mall development company, of which Sudhir has been Vice Chairman, amount to £1,087,492, according to UK’s Election Commission records.

In 2015, newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, repaid his ‘kindness’ by appointing him as his counsel on UK’s business relations with India and the party’s ties with the British-Indian community.

Choudhrie’s other feats include having diplomatic immunity as Latvia’s Honorary Consul General to India, the country notoriously known as the latest tax haven to spring up within the EU; and receiving an award from Prime Minister Theresa May for lifetime achievement.

How To Spend A Billion Dollars

Apart from being the owners of one of India’s finest collection of vintage cars, Choudhrie and his wife have been long-standing patrons of art. They own some of the best works of MF Hussain, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst. Together, they founded the Stellar International Art Foundation which now has a total of 600 high-art collectibles.

Choudhrie and family have been residing in London since 2006 in a £5-million flat in Chelsea. They also own several mansions in Belgravia, UK. His son Bhanu is now in charge of the several hospitals owned by Alpha C&C.

Bhanu is married to another billionaire Simrin, an interior designer and art collector. The couple opened up about their billionaire lifestyles in a documentary titled Secret Millionaire. Choudhrie’s niece Simran is married to former union minister Kamal Nath’s son Bakul Nath.

Choudhrie was removed from the internal list of future peers of the Liberal Democrats when one of the hospitals owned by Alpha failed to meet eight of nine standard care standards. There was also a disturbing complaint of “one female adolescent patient [being] restrained by nine members of staff” when she refused to remove her underwear in a hospital in Woking.

Catch Me If You Can

The recent findings may well be minor developments in the case against Choudhrie. Men like him live him in the shadows; according to former Minister of Defence AK Anthony, men like him don’t exist at all.

Tax havens and shell companies make the following of the money trail virtually impossible. The main trade is of confidential information wrung out by the likes of Choudhrie greasing the right hands and slapping away the rival ones.

Spokespersons of Choudhrie have continuously denied all allegations. Meanwhile, the man himself goes about building homes for the elderly and the disabled, promoting and preserving fine arts, and overseeing a chain of hospitals and nursing homes in the UK.

And for all of his imposing and larger-than-life image, loved ones endearingly call the 70-something white-haired alleged arms dealer ‘Bunny’.

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